- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

The Washington Redskins will spend $9.3 million for Laveranues Coles not to play for them next season.

The disgruntled wide receiver was traded to the New York Jets last weekend — a deal that should become official today or tomorrow — but he still will make an impact on the Redskins after he is gone.

The $9.3 million figure, an acceleration of Coles’ signing bonus, represents 11 percent of the Redskins’ $85.5 million salary cap for next season — and the latest example of how the Redskins continue to struggle with NFL caponomics.

The Redskins will spend more than 25 percent of their salary cap next season on players who won’t be with the team, probably won’t be with the team or will be with the club but not on the field playing.

One source with intimate knowledge of NFL players’ contracts and team salary structures said no club has spent so much and gained so little as the Redskins.

Redskins coach Joe Gibbs was traveling yesterday and could not be reached for comment. Vice president of player personnel Vinny Cerrato did not return phone calls.

The trade of Coles back to the Jets means the Redskins will take a huge salary cap hit next season (Washington also lost a first-round draft pick when they acquired the restricted free agent in 2003).

Coles isn’t alone.

The Redskins also must account for the final $4.8 million of the $7 million signing bonus they gave to linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who they signed in 2002 and cut last June.

Departed defensive end Regan Upshaw will count $1.2 million against the cap and guard Dave Fiore $750,000.

That’s $16.05 million spent on players who no longer are with the team, a figure that represents 18.8 percent of the club’s cap space for 2005.

However, the situation gets worse.

Backup quarterback Mark Brunell, who likely won’t play unless starter Patrick Ramsey gets hurt, will cost another $3.2 million against the cap.

The Redskins gave the aging and faltering Brunell, a free agent who was pursued by no other team in the offseason, an $8.6 million signing bonus last March.

The acquisition of receiver/punt returner Santana Moss from the Jets in exchange for Coles likely means the Redskins will get rid of diminutive return man Chad Morton — a move that would cost another $833,000 against the cap.

Middle linebacker Michael Barrow, who is 35 and missed all of last season because of injury, might never play again. He would cost $2.1 million against the cap in bonus acceleration.

That totals more than $22 million — more than 25 percent of the cap — spent on players who already have departed the Redskins, likely won’t be with the team next season or, as in Brunell’s case, will be with the club but not playing.

Those kind of expensive mistakes explain why the Redskins likely will have to let top cornerback Fred Smoot leave as a free agent: They probably won’t have enough room under the salary cap to re-sign him. The loss of Smoot would force the Redskins to gamble on Walt Harris as the new starting corner and leave them with no proven replacement for Harris at nickelback.

Those moves also explain why the Redskins settled for the cheaper and older David Patten at receiver instead of pursuing the top-end free agent wideouts, Derrick Mason and Plaxico Burress.

The likely departure of Smoot on the heels of that of middle linebacker Antonio Pierce — one Redskins source said a deal for Pierce should have been done in December — brings up another failure of the Snyder regime.

The Redskins of recent years have failed to re-sign their best players — quarterback Brad Johnson and perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, for example — while treating other teams’ over-the-hill players, such as Jeff George and Deion Sanders, as must-buys.

In 2000, the signing of George prompted Johnson — the only Redskins quarterback to win a playoff game in the last 12 years — to leave for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for whom he won a Super Bowl.

Sanders cost the Redskins $8 million in bonus money for one so-so season, forcing still-productive cornerback Darrell Green to the bench.

The end of contract talks with Bailey in 2003 eventually forced his trade to the Denver Broncos, a move that necessitated signing older free agent Shawn Springs to replace him.

And the Redskins never have much cap room in the fall to use to re-sign their players before they hit the market.

While the Redskins have made some smart free agent signings — particularly last year with linebacker Marcus Washington, defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, Springs and Harris — no other NFL team has gotten so little return on their big investments.

The Redskins were just 34-46 in their first five years following Snyder-driven offseasons. And only the Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars have missed the playoffs in each of the past five seasons.

Other teams have spent heavily but realized some profit before being hit by salary cap problems.

The Baltimore Ravens won the 2000 Super Bowl, the Tennessee Titans won the 1999 AFC championship and the San Francisco 49ers reached the playoffs in 2001 and 2002.

The Redskins still have a glimmer of hope: They have two seasons left before their day of cap reckoning hits with full force.

Note — Fullback Mike Sellers agreed to return to the Redskins for a three-year deal with a signing bonus worth an estimated $200,000. Sellers, 29, broke in with the Redskins in 1998 and moved on to Cleveland in 2001 and then to Winnipeg of the CFL before returning the next year. Sellers was second on the team with 29 special-teams tackles.

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