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Samuels, Redskins Getting Closer

Negotiations Take on Urgency as March 1st Salary Cap Deadline Approaches

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2005; Page D03

INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 23 -- An impasse in negotiations between left tackle Chris Samuels and the Washington Redskins to restructure his contract has ended, increasing the chances for both sides to reach an agreement before the NFL's March 1 salary cap deadline, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The talks, which had halted in January, have been rekindled largely because of the seven-year, $52.5 million contract signed last week by left tackle Walter Jones of the Seattle Seahawks.

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Jones's contract -- which included a $16 million signing bonus -- has prompted Washington to increase its prior offer, sources said. Samuels hasn't accepted the sweetened offer, but the Redskins are expected to continue negotiations here with Samuels's agent, Jimmy Sexton.

According to sources, Samuels and the Redskins had exchanged proposals last month before the club rejected Samuels's latest proposal. Because Samuels's salary counts a significant amount against the cap, the Redskins were considering releasing or trading the left tackle.

The Indianapolis scouting combine began Wednesday, bringing a slew of front-office personnel, coaches, trainers and agents here as clubs evaluate more than 300 prospects for the April draft. Traditionally, NFL agents and teams use this week to negotiate contracts, and team officials talk trades.

Jones, 31, didn't allow a sack in 16 games last season and made his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl. Although Samuels is not quite considered to be in Jones's class, the 27-year-old rebounded from a shaky 2003 season with a strong year and remains one of the NFL's best left tackles.

Jones is the second-highest paid left tackle in the NFL after Jonathan Ogden of the Baltimore Ravens. In the first three years of Jones's deal -- the period in which a team is least likely to release a player -- he will earn $26.7 million, or about $9 million annually.

Samuels and the Redskins consider Tuesday the deadline for an agreement, because it's the NFL's deadline for teams to get under the cap. Coach Joe Gibbs has said that Samuels's return -- with a cap-friendly deal -- is a priority.

Samuels's salary is scheduled to count $9.5 million against the cap, easily the highest on the club, in 2005. That number grows to $11.3 million in 2006. However, Samuels has a clause in his contract that will void the deal in 2006, making him an unrestricted free agent after this season. The voided contract will increase his 2005 cap number to $12 million.

Without a deal, the Redskins could release or trade Samuels to save cap space. Last offseason, Samuels was mentioned in trade rumors, ostensibly because of a refusal to renegotiate his seven-year, $49 million contract. Samuels restructured his contract twice before the 2003 season, but turned down repeated requests during the 2004 season.

Samuels is owed roughly $15 million on his current contract, including $6.5 million this season in salary and bonuses.

Pierce: Show Me the Money

Linebacker Antonio Pierce said Wednesday that although he expects to become an unrestricted free agent next week, he will provide Washington an opportunity to match a lucrative offer from any team. The Redskins and Pierce's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, haven't been able to agree on an extension after expressing confidence during negotiations last season.

Rosenhaus said Tuesday that the Redskins wouldn't necessarily get a "last crack," but Pierce said Wednesday that Washington will get every opportunity to bring him back.

"Washington is still my first choice," Pierce said in a telephone interview from Long Beach, Calif. "I have confidence in Drew. And if it comes down to it, I don't think the Redskins will have a problem matching anything. I don't see [entering free agency] as a risk. Before I sign anything, I'll let them know.

"You get one chance in life to get paid like this. It may sound like I'm greedy, but the bottom line is Washington is my first choice. I don't plan on leaving. I just want to get my value, and sometimes the only way to see your value is knowing what other people think of you."

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