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Coles Traded to Jets for S. Moss

Washington Absorbs Huge Salary Cap Hit After Shipping Receiver

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page E01

The on-and-off trade shipping unhappy Washington Redskins wide receiver Laveranues Coles to his former team, the New York Jets, for wideout Santana Moss was finally completed yesterday.

The main obstacle had been Coles's request for a contract extension, partly because he believed he had initially reached an agreement with Washington to be released, which would have made him a free agent. But after several days of negotiations, the Jets and Coles's agent, Roosevelt Barnes, reached agreement on a contract extension yesterday morning.

The 5-10, 185-pound Santana Moss, who has been injury-prone during his four-year NFL career, is expected to give the Redskins a big-play threat as a receiver and punt returner. (Bernie Nunez -- AP)

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According to sources, Coles received guarantees of roughly $15 million over the next three seasons in a contract that expires in 2010. Without the extension, Coles was scheduled to earn $7.5 million in salary over the next three seasons. Coles still collects a $5 million bonus from the Redskins due April 1, giving him $20 million over the next three seasons. The new contract is expected to be finalized tomorrow.

The Coles-Moss trade culminates a soap opera -- complicated by salary-cap ramifications -- that as recently as Wednesday made Coles's departure from the Redskins appear unlikely.

The trade was costly for the Redskins, who must absorb a salary cap hit of roughly $9 million to jettison Coles, although the actual cost will be about $6 million since Coles's salary and bonus allocation was scheduled to count about $3 million against the cap this season. The Redskins created cap room this past week by restructuring left tackle Chris Samuels's contract, but most of that space is now gone, and cornerback Fred Smoot remains unsigned.

Both Coles and Moss must pass routine physicals with their new teams before the trade is official, according to sources. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Moss, who has been injury-prone during his four-year NFL career, is scheduled to take his on Monday, and an introductory news conference is expected Tuesday at Redskins Park.

For the past two seasons, the 5-11, 193-pound Coles -- whose physical is scheduled for Tuesday in New York -- has played with an ailing big right toe. And in the final 14 games last year, Coles had an injured middle finger. Coles still finished with a career-high 90 catches, although he requested to depart following a career-low 10.6 yards per catch in Coach Joe Gibbs's ball-control offense. Coles, 27, declined the club's recommendation to have toe surgery because he deemed it unnecessary.

With the Coles-Moss trade all but consummated, sources said, the Redskins are now focused on dealing wideout Rod Gardner, who has been on the trading block for the highest pick possible. According to sources, several teams, including the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have expressed interest.

In Moss, the Redskins obtain an explosive wide receiver with blazing speed who is also a dynamic punt returner.

"We're excited to have Santana Moss," Vice President Vinny Cerrato said yesterday in brief comments because the trade wasn't official. "He's been a touchdown-maker, and he has great speed."

Moss had his best season in 2003, finishing with 74 catches for 1,105 yards and 10 touchdowns. Last season, while suffering a sore hamstring, Moss had only 45 catches for 838 yards and uncharacteristically struggled as a punt returner. But Moss averaged 18.6 yards per catch. (Unlike Coles, Moss publicly expressed his displeasure at his team's conservative offense.)

Moss is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2005 season, during which he will earn $448,000. But according to a source, Moss, 25, is expected to sign a rich, multiyear extension with the Redskins next week, when the trade becomes official. The Redskins are expected to pair Moss with former New England Patriots wideout David Patten, who was signed Thursday to a five-year, $13 million deal that included a $3.5 million bonus. Like Moss, Patten possesses explosive speed and is considered a big-play threat. The Redskins believe that the duo will help solve the team's inability to produce big passing plays. The Redskins mustered only four completions of 40 yards or longer. Washington's receivers managed only six touchdowns -- Coles had one -- while averaging 11.5 yards a catch.

"We're going to do every single thing we can to stretch the field, get deep, make big plays," Gibbs said last week. "We ran the ball decent last year. What we missed were big plays. If you get people up there trying to stop the run, you should be able to get big plays."

Patten, who caught a career-high seven touchdowns last season, will likely replace Gardner as Washington's No. 2 wideout. Patten -- 5-10, 190 pounds -- and Moss are a diminutive duo for starting wideouts. But Friday, Redskins wide receivers coach Stan Hixon said: "It's about productivity, not size. Height is not a big deal. It's about catching the ball and speed."

The Jets and Redskins agreed in principle to the trade Feb. 25. But it collapsed the next day after Washington gave New York permission to contact Coles for the first time, and the Jets discovered his extension request.

Coles and the Redskins agreed to part ways after last season, but the split became complicated because Coles declined to forfeit the $5 million bonus due April 1, which would have made it easier to complete a trade. Coles was only willing to give up the money if released. The option became irrelevant Wednesday when a deadline passed that would have provided the Redskins salary-cap relief in 2005.

Gibbs had been insistent about gaining value for a player who the club acquired in 2003 as a Jets restricted free agent, costing a first-round draft pick. At the time, Coles received the highest signing bonus in club history: $13 million highlighting a seven-year, $35 million deal. Despite his toe troubles, Coles's attractiveness to suitors increased when Washington showed a willingness to assume the $5 million bonus.

When the trade first fell through, Gibbs considered its revival "not very likely," and expressed a desire to retain Coles. Several former teammates, though conflicted about the situation, were virtually unanimous that his return would be problematic.

"I love the guys who want to be here and their heart is with the Redskins," said guard Randy Thomas, who played with Coles in New York. "If you don't want to be here, stay home."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company