The Washington Redskins grew older and smaller at receiver yesterday as they finally agreed to trade disgruntled Laveranues Coles back to the New York Jets for fellow wideout Santana Moss, ending two weeks of speculation.
The trade is contingent on each player passing a physical tomorrow or Tuesday, and neither club would comment until the deal becomes official. Despite an arthritic big toe that hampered Coles for most of his two seasons in Washington, a Redskins source said last week he didn’t think the exam would be an issue.
Coles blamed coach Joe Gibbs’ conservative offense for his career-low 10.6 yards a catch last season. However after Coles averaged 17 yards in his first three games as a Redskin, he hurt the toe and dropped to a 13.8 average for the rest of the 2003 season in then-coach Steve Spurrier’s wide-open scheme.
Washington, which had been frugal in the first three days of free agency, doling out just $6 million in bonuses to receiver David Patten and center Casey Rabach, had to dig deep while granting the moody Coles his wish to be traded.
That’s because the remaining $9.3 million of the $13 million bonus Coles received to leave the Jets as a restricted free agent in 2003 immediately counts against Washington’s salary cap. A Redskins official said the club’s hopes of receiving a bonus giveback from Coles had not been realized.
Sources also said the Jets agreed to guarantee Coles $8 million of the remaining $18.5 million of base salaries in the seven-year, $35 million contract he signed with the Redskins while sweetening the deal with at least another $1 million.
Moss, 25, has one year left on the contract he signed as a rookie in 2001, but the Redskins are expected to work out a new deal that could rival the five-year, $25 million pact free agent receiver Derrick Mason obtained from Baltimore last week.
At 5-foot-11 and 193, the 24-year-old Coles may never regain his once fine speed unless he undergoes career-threatening toe surgery, but he’s ultra-reliable, having caught between 82 and 90 passes in the last three seasons.
The 5-10, 185-pound Moss brings speed to burn to an offense that was sorely lacking in big plays in 2004. Moss caught only 45 passes, half as many as Coles, but produced 838 yards — just 112 fewer than his former Jets teammate. Moss also has scored 15 touchdowns in his two years as a starter compared to Coles’ seven.
Moss caught 74 passes as Coles’ replacement in 2003 and has been dangerous on punt returns, averaging 16.5 yards in 2002 (twice his average last season).
With Moss averaging 18.6 yards a catch and Patten 18.2 with New England, the Redskins — who averaged an NFC-low 10 — now have two of the five starting receivers who averaged at least 18 in 2004. Rod Gardner, who averaged 12.7 opposite Coles last year, will be traded or cut. However, only Carolina also has two starting wideouts who are both 5-10 or shorter.
With backups James Thrash and Taylor Jacobs also under 6 feet, this would seem to dictate the use of the ninth pick in next month’s draft on Southern Cal’s 6-5 Mike Williams. However, the Redskins feel last year’s renewed emphasis on illegal contact penalties puts a premium on speed rather than size.
“Real good receivers come in all packages,” Gibbs said after welcoming Patten to Washington on Friday. “There have been a lot of great receivers at 5-9, 5-10 with great explosion and quickness.”
With the Coles for Moss trade all but certain, the Redskins’ top priority before the NFL Draft on April 23-24 is trying to re-sign cornerback Fred Smoot. However, the acceleration of Coles’ bonus and Smoot’s previous rejection of $10 million up front from Washington may make his return impossible. If so, the Redskins are seemingly prepared to promote Walt Harris, leaving nickel back to a low-priced free agent, one of last year’s raw reserves or a rookie.
As far as their five other unrestricted free agents are concerned, the Redskins most want to re-sign backup offensive lineman Ray Brown and special teams standout Mike Sellers. Reserve defensive end Ron Warner, who had been listed as unrestricted by the NFL Players Association but had been considered an exclusive rights free agent by the Redskins, will revert to his proper restricted free agent status this week. That means Warner has until April 15 to sign an offer sheet that Washington would have a week to match.