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Coles Will Not Rework Contract

Refusal Makes Trade Less Likely

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 23, 2005; Page D01

Talks between the Washington Redskins and Laveranues Coles have reached a standstill: The wide receiver is unwilling to restructure his contract to facilitate a trade because he believes he had an understanding with the team and would be released, a source close to Coles said last night.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the Redskins are trying to trade Coles to avoid having to release him without anything in return; they gave up a first-round pick when they signed him as a restricted free agent in 2003. But Coles, who wants out of Washington because he is unhappy with the team's conservative offense, apparently wants to become an unrestricted free agent instead, if he forfeits part of his signing bonus.

If Laveranues Coles does not agree to forfeit a portion of his $13 million signing bonus, the Redskins probably could not trade the wide receiver. (Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

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Coach Joe Gibbs called a report in Monday's editions of The Post, which stated that Coles would be released, "inaccurate."

Gibbs was unavailable to comment early last night.

ESPN.com reported Monday that a deal to release Coles was in place but that the team was trying "to back off" its agreement and make a trade instead.

If Coles does not agree to forfeit a portion of the $13 million signing bonus he received when he signed a seven-year, $35-million contract in 2003, the Redskins probably could not trade him because the team would absorb a huge salary cap hit. A source said Monday that talks centered on Coles forfeiting a $5 million signing bonus payment he is due April 1.

Coles's contract does not expire until 2010, which means the team can force him to return. And according to one teammate with knowledge of the situation, Coles has said he would return -- and play hard -- if necessary. However, Coles's unhappiness was evident last season, said one starter on the offense, and made it difficult for players to endure the team's struggles.

If Coles changes his mind and agrees to restructure his contract for a trade, executing it might be difficult. Coles would have to find a team willing to repay the relinquished bonus while giving up a draft pick or at least one player. Coles is still considered one of the NFL's premiere wideouts and last season he caught a career-high 90 passes, seventh-best in the NFL, playing in a struggling offense.

Perhaps the biggest issue concerning Coles is his health. He has declined to have surgery for a toe injury that has plagued him the past two seasons. Club sources said Coles rejected a team recommendation that he have surgery because he believes it is unnecessary.

"If he's a free agent, there will be a lot of interest in a guy who caught 90 passes last year," an NFL general manager said yesterday, "but there will be questions about the toe."

Opinion about Coles's trade value varied among several NFL team executives who were interviewed yesterday and requested anonymity to avoid breaking tampering rules. One GM predicted that a team would give up a late first-round pick for Coles, noting his affordable annual contract. But another NFL team executive, a personnel director, doesn't believe Coles would bring better than a second-round pick. And that NFL executive said that he would start negotiations even lower.

"I know he has a cap-friendly salary for this year, so some teams would be interested, but everyone would want to take a look at his toe and whether that is going to be a problem," the executive said. "In free agency, he'd be a pricey guy, provided he was healthy or would get healthy for the season. He was a productive player on a struggling offense. That's definitely in his favor."

Another GM agreed, saying, "If the guy is healthy, he's very valuable, no question about that. But if he won't get his foot fixed, then it becomes a big 'if.'

"It's impossible to say how much you'd give for him in a trade. It would depend on how many picks you have. Some clubs would give a number one for a Randy Moss, other teams wouldn't give you anything. Same with this guy. But if he's healthy, I think he's a hell of a football player."

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