- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Well, Laveranues “the Toe” Coles is rejoining the Jets — after a two-year trial separation. Wonder if that makes him eligible for the Comeback Player of the Year Award.

It’s a remarkable turn-of-events, given his they-done-me-wrong attitude toward the Jets back in 2003, when the club declined to match his seven-year, $35 million offer sheet from the Redskins. Coles felt betrayed by Herman Edwards then, didn’t think the coach lobbied the front office hard enough to keep him. Edwards, for his part, suggested that Laveranues had “a lot more maturing he has to go through.”

But now the two sides have kissed and made up — and to facilitate Coles’ return, the Jets have even reworked his contract.

We’ve seen a number of these prodigal-son episodes lately in the NFL — players leaving teams for the green fields of free agency, often with hurt feelings, and then slinking back (or in LC’s case, limping back) a few years later. Heck, in November, Dexter Jackson, the Super Bowl XXXVII MVP, got cut by the Cardinals and had a chance to catch on with the Patriots, who were in desperate need of a safety. But he opted to re-sign with his original club, the Bucs, forgoing a second Super Bowl ring for the familiar surroundings of Tampa.

“I still remember the defense,” he explained. “I played here four years, and it’s pretty much the same defense.”

The Philadelphia club that faced the Patriots in Jacksonville featured no fewer than three “comebackers” — Jeremiah Trotter, Hugh Douglas and Dorsey Levens. All of them left the Eagles’ nest thinking they’d be better off elsewhere, either financially or in terms of playing time, and they discovered, rather quickly, that those things can’t buy happiness.

So when the Redskins decided to cut their losses with Trotter and release him, he sucked up his pride and went back to Philly for a minimum contract. Douglas did likewise after he failed to rack up many sacks for the Jaguars. Levens, meanwhile, re-upped with the Eagles last season — following a miserable year with the Giants — as a replacement for injured Correll Buckhalter.

And as a reward, the three of them got to play on the Eagles’ first NFC championship team in 24 years. (And to return the favor, Trotter just waved off a reported $7 million signing bonus from the Chiefs and accepted the Eagles’ more modest bonus of $4 million.)

“I love it here,” said the linebacker who once fumed because Philly slapped the franchise tag on him. “The city loves me, and this is where I’m supposed to be. Philly is my home and where I want to retire.”

It would be nice if these stories had some kind of impact on the league, if players started paying more attention to quality-of-life issues than to the size of their bank accounts. (If they did, we wouldn’t have these memorial services every year for all the “dead money” on clubs’ payrolls.)

As many teams have been burned as helped by free agency, I’d venture, and the players’ won-lost percentage is probably well below 1.000, too. Every season you hear about formerly high-priced free agents getting dumped just a year or two into their contracts — such as Marcellus Wiley, who has been released two offaseasons in a row by the Chargers and now the Cowboys. (Yes, Wiley made a bunch of money, but he also became the poster child for the insidious effect of runaway affluence.)

There’s such a sense of dislocation in the NFL these days, what with all the free agent comings and goings. A guy like Brian Mitchell reaches the end of the line, after bouncing around the NFC East for 14 years, and he realizes he’s a Man Without a Country. So he appeals to the Redskins — a club he never hesitated to badmouth after he left Washington — to re-sign him for a day so he can retire in burgundy and gold (and, of course, re-establish his connection to the team before he starts exploring post-football opportunities hereabouts).

This is the world Joe Gibbs has walked back into. A world in which a player can be a “core Redskin” one day and a New York Giant the next — all because of a few lousy dollars. A world in which another “core Redskin” can catch 90 passes, not be particularly pleased about it, and gripe his way into a trade to the New York Jets (for whom he was previously a “core Jet” before jumping to the Redskins). It’s enough to make you wonder if the whole business isn’t, well, rotten to the core.

And did you catch what Chris Samuels said when he signed his seven-year contract extension the other day?

“Redskin for life, baby!” he exulted.

Talk about an optimist. But who knows, maybe Samuels will be one of the precious few, the Darrell Green/Monte Coleman of his generation, a player who doesn’t have to leave a place to fully appreciate what it has to offer. We can only hope.

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