Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The future of Washington Redskins wide receiver Laveranues Coles grew murkier yesterday as an NFL spokesman said a trade could be killed at the 11th hour based on the signing bonus “give-back” scenario the two sides had discussed.

NFL vice president of public relations Greg Aiello couldn’t say whether Coles would be permitted to waive the final installment of his $13million signing bonus, an unusual move that would facilitate his departure from Washington.

“I have no answer to that question,” Aiello said in a telephone interview. “That totally depends on what is being proposed.”

Coles’ offer to forgo a $5million payment April1 was crucial to any scenario in which he left town. Without the resulting salary cap adjustment — Washington would suffer a net loss of only $928,000 instead of being crushed by cap “acceleration” — the Redskins wouldn’t have enough cap room to deal Coles.

The Redskins and Coles, according to sources familiar with the talks, were discussing alternate scenarios to make the trade palatable. One option was to have Coles convert the $5 million into a roster bonus, which would have the same cap effect without a possible roadblock from the NFL Management Council.

But Coles would have less control over his destination in that scenario and his camp was said to be balking at it. Ultimately, the situation remained precarious as Coles held on to his leverage and the Redskins remained determined to get something of value in return for his departure.

Coles’ dispute with Washington became public this week. He is frustrated with coach Joe Gibbs’ conservative offense, which was at least partly why he generated just 950 yards on 90 catches last season. The club, meanwhile, dislikes Coles’ recent attitude and his refusal to undergo surgery on his ailing right big toe.

Even if the Redskins navigate the cap implications of Coles’ departure, it would be just the first step in a difficult journey. Washington still would have to find a trade partner, determine trade compensation, and have the new team settle contract issues with Coles, perhaps in the form of a restructuring.

The Redskins have discussed a trade with the New York Jets, for whom Coles played his first three NFL seasons. Washington signed Coles away from the Jets in 2003, giving him a seven-year, $35million contract and shipping the Jets a first-round pick as compensation.

Jets defensive end John Abraham, who has 43 sacks in five seasons, apparently has been mentioned in trade talks. The sides also could work out a deal for one or more draft picks. In addition, another team could enter the bidding at the NFL Scouting Combine this week in Indianapolis.

For now, Tuesday remains the deadline for a trade agreement. If Coles were to waive his bonus payment after Tuesday, the cap credit wouldn’t come until 2006, and the deal effectively would be killed.

Coles’ trade value remains uncertain, mainly because of the toe injury. He has been injured since Week 3 of 2003, and there have been questions about his deep speed. However, one high-ranking personnel official in the NFL said there appears to be significant league-wide interest in the 2003 Pro Bowl pick.

If Washington were unable to trade Coles, it isn’t clear what might happen. On Monday, Gibbs strongly denied a report that Coles was likely to be released, and the coach indicated the team is prepared to play the 2005 season with him.

Meanwhile, the Redskins’ options at wide receiver decreased by one as Jerry Porter re-signed with the Oakland Raiders. Washington appears very interested in former Tennessee Titans wide receiver Derrick Mason, who led NFL wideouts with 96 catches last season but was cut this week in a cap purge.

Notes — The Redskins chipped away at their cap issues again, cutting defensive tackle Jermaine Haley and offensive tackle Vaughn Parker. The moves didn’t generate much spending room, netting less than $1million. The Redskins also are attempting to restructure the contract of right guard Randy Thomas, a move that would save about $1.6million of space. …

The club has raised the fee for green permit parking lots at FedEx Field from $20per game to $25, bringing those lots into parity with the cost of all other cash and permit parking at the stadium.

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