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Coles-Moss Deal 'Unlikely'

Gibbs Says Keeping Redskins Receiver Is a Possibility

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 27, 2005; Page E01

INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 26 -- Coach Joe Gibbs said Saturday that the potential trade of unhappy wide receiver Laveranues Coles to the New York Jets for wide receiver Santana Moss is "unlikely." Gibbs declined to be expansive, but added that the Redskins would retain Coles for the 2005 season if the club didn't receive value for their No. 1 receiver.

Despite significant progress last night, Washington hasn't been able to reach an agreement to restructure left tackle Chris Samuels's contract -- necessary to make any deal for Coles because it would create the requisite room to absorb the massive salary-cap hit the Redskins would incur. Coles has declined to forfeit a $5 million bonus due April 1, which would make it easier for Washington to complete a trade, because he believes the Redskins reneged on an agreement to release him for giving up the money.

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However, sources said that the trade collapsed Saturday morning when the Jets contacted Coles for the first time after gaining permission from the Redskins. According to two sources with knowledge of the meeting, New York was concerned that Coles desired a contract extension for being dealt without his approval, and would be a risk to remain disgruntled. Sources said that although Coles was obligated to report if dealt, New York grew uncomfortable with the situation.

"I'd say it's not very likely," Gibbs said of the trade during a news conference. "That's my general feeling on it. But like I said, we value him, so if we work out something with a team, we would do that."

Several teams -- including the Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders -- have expressed interest in Coles, sources said. But the Coles-Moss trade was so firm, one source said, that an understanding existed that Moss -- scheduled to be a free agent in 2006 -- would have received an extension from Washington after March 2, when trades can become official. The Redskins held out faint hope Saturday that the trade will be rekindled with more discussions, sources said.

Even if the Redskins find another trade partner, they would be hard-pressed to jettison Coles -- whose $35 million contract expires in 2010 -- unless Samuels restructures via an extension. Friday, the Redskins and Samuels's agent, Jimmy Sexton, didn't seriously negotiate after exchanging messages reiterating their positions. But both sides restarted negotiations Saturday. They have a self-imposed deadline of Tuesday, when all NFL teams must be under the salary cap.

"Laveranues Coles is a very valuable guy," Gibbs said. "If we can work something out with somebody, that would be fine. If not, he'll probably remain a Redskin. He's very valuable and we think we would have to have some real value [for him]. That's a simple statement and I won't elaborate on anything else."

Gibbs's only specific response to questions about trading Coles was that Washington would almost certainly not send him to an NFC East rival. (Dallas Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells is expected to attempt to acquire a top receiver during the offseason.) Coles has told close teammates that he will play characteristically hard if forced to return. He kept his desire to leave mostly secret, allowing only a few teammates to know. However, several players believe that retaining Coles will cause too much of a distraction in the locker room. By midseason, Coles occasionally made private remarks critical of the offense, one offensive starter said, and once invoked Steve Spurrier's name because of the former coach's pass-oriented offense.

"You don't want to have somebody that doesn't want to be there," said linebacker Antonio Pierce in a phone interview. "If he's unhappy, he's going to make other people unhappy. We don't need that kind of negativity.

"L.C. plays hard, and guys respected him for that. But you need everybody on the same page. He wasn't a distraction, but you could tell he wasn't happy. If he came back, he would definitely be a distraction."

When Gibbs was asked Saturday about that possibility, he referred reporters to his brief remarks about Coles. Gibbs, who took responsibility for Washington's 30th-ranked offense, was asked if he has a philosophy for players who want out. "Every situation is different," Gibbs responded. "You have to work your way through it."

Quarterback Patrick Ramsey, who has reclaimed his starting role, apparently would welcome Coles. According to a source close to Ramsey, he was stunned by Coles's desire to leave. Before Ramsey lost his job following the 2003 season, the two had formed a rapport as Coles finished with 82 catches and 1,204 yards plus a team-high six touchdowns.

Right guard Randy Thomas praised Coles for not making his displeasure public last season while performing with spirit. But Thomas added: "If your heart is not here, why even come back in the building?"

One veteran defensive player believes that Coles is showing his true colors despite his reputation for being the quintessential team player. "Why doesn't he give Coach a chance?" said the player who joined Washington last season.

Linebacker Marcus Washington, like most teammates, was conflicted about the subject: "Whatever decision he makes, he has to live with those consequences. He's a tough guy. He's one of my friends. I don't want him to leave. I don't know all the details, but if I know Laveranues. I don't think Laveranues is quitting on anything."

Coles's unhappiness in Washington stemmed from Gibbs's ball-control offense. Although Coles collected a career-high 90 catches -- seventh best in the NFL -- he averaged a career-low 10.6 yards per catch.

Last season, sources said Coles met with owner Daniel Snyder and Vice President Vinny Cerrato to request an offseason trade because of the mounting losses coupled with the offense. When questioned Friday about the meeting, Snyder and Cerrato denied that Coles had requested a trade.

Late last season Coles voiced his displeasure to Gibbs during a private meeting at Redskins Park. Gibbs acknowledges the meeting but has declined to reveal what was said. According to one source, with the season lost, Coles suggested that Gibbs open up the offense, particularly deep passes to him. But Gibbs, the source said, reiterated to Coles that Washington would always have a run-oriented offense, which cemented Coles's desire to leave.

"Maybe he wasn't able to adjust to a new coach," Pierce said. "He was hand-picked by Spurrier, Dan and Vinny. Guys on defense can adjust since it seems like we have a different coordinator every year. So change is no big deal. Some of us are able to adjust."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company