- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2005

A trade involving Washington Redskins wide receiver Laveranues Coles just might be back on. The New York Jets, the most likely partner, seemed to breathe life back into the potential deal yesterday by signaling some willingness to work with the respective parties on a swap.

Although details of the Jets’ step forward weren’t clear, the fact they apparently were ready to talk wasn’t unexpected. The Redskins, Jets and Coles have been playing a high-stakes game of liar’s poker for about a week now, and the only certainty in their respective bargaining positions was that Washington wouldn’t let Coles walk away as a free agent.

Under terms previously discussed, the Redskins would receive speedy wideout Santana Moss in exchange for Coles. Moss then would receive a new contract from Washington.

However, the specifics of Coles’ financial prospects remain uncertain. The Jets could give Coles a new pact as part of the deal, or they could pick up part or all of the $5 million Washington is due to pay Coles on April 1. That $5 million represents the final installment on Coles’ original $13 million signing bonus.

In either scenario, Washington likely would have more salary cap room to pursue free agents in a market that opens tomorrow. The Redskins are on the verge of signing offensive tackle Chris Samuels to a new contract, and until yesterday it appeared the spending room created by Samuels’ deal simply would be used to absorb the cap “acceleration” of Coles’ trade.

But that money apparently won’t be spent on former Tennessee Titans cornerback Samari Rolle. Although NFL sources in recent days believed Washington was on the verge of a deal with Rolle, a source close to the situation last night said the club won’t make a play for Rolle unless he finds little or no market for his services.

While some members of the Redskins organization have tremendous respect from Rolle and there is little doubt he could aid the defense, his price tag simply is too high. The strength of Gregg Williams’ defense — the league’s third-ranked unit last year — has the Redskins focused on a mid-level free agent or even a draft pick to replace cornerback Fred Smoot.

Meanwhile, the Redskins tendered seven restricted players. Running back Rock Cartwright, defensive end Demetric Evans, quarterback Tim Hasselbeck and safety Andre Lott all received the lowest tender offers ($656,000) for restricted free agents. Other tenders went to three exclusive-rights players, kicker Jeff Chandler, linebacker Chris Clemons and defensive end Ron Warner.

By issuing the $656,000 tenders, Washington retains the right to match any contract offer to those four restricted free agents. If the Redskins declined to match, the player’s new team would owe a draft pick based on the player’s original draft round. Lott (fifth round) and Cartwright (seventh) would require compensation; Evans and Hasselbeck would not.

Hasselbeck, in particular, could draw some interest as a developmental passer after flashing potential late in the 2003 season.

Exclusive-rights players cannot change clubs once tendered. The return of Chandler, who hit five of six field goals late last season, gives Washington some insurance in case kicker John Hall cannot recover fully from the various muscle pulls that plagued him last season.

Still unsigned is Washington’s top unrestricted free agent (assuming Smoot is out of the picture), linebacker Antonio Pierce. Some NFL executives believe Pierce will take the Redskins’ best offer and shop it at least a day in free agency, but yesterday Pierce said he hoped to be back.

“I’m very optimistic,” Pierce said in a phone interview. “Things are looking positive.”

Agent Drew Rosenhaus, who represents Pierce, maintained he expects Pierce to become a free agent at midnight tonight. When asked whether the Redskins were making a push to sign Pierce, Rosenhaus replied, “I can’t really characterize that.”

But Pierce said, “I still think they’re making a push,” noting that Rosenhaus and the Redskins did some negotiating at the just-completed NFL Scouting Combine.

Besides Pierce and Smoot, the Redskins have five other unrestricted free agents: offensive lineman Ray Brown, defensive tackle Joe Salave’a, fullback Mike Sellers, tight end Brian Kozlowski and safety Jason Doering.

Salave’a appears likely to re-sign just after the market opens. Brown’s talks could stretch out longer. Sellers, according to agent Ken Austin, has submitted a multiyear contract proposal to which the Redskins haven’t responded.

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