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Redskins No Closer To Deal For Coles

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 1, 2005; Page D01

INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 28 -- Despite intense negotiations through the weekend, sources said the Washington Redskins might miss a self-imposed deadline to restructure left tackle Chris Samuels's contract by Tuesday at 4 p.m. -- when all NFL teams must be under the salary cap. And another critical deadline determining the future of Laveranues Coles will almost certainly be missed eight hours later, all but ending the disgruntled wide receiver's hopes of being released.

The timetable involving Samuels, who is close to an agreement with Washington, was largely artificial because the two sides can continue talks after Tuesday without being penalized. In Coles's case, Washington has until midnight to reach an agreement with the wide receiver to release him as he has requested in exchange for forfeiting a $5 million deferred signing bonus payment due April 1. If a pact is reached in time -- and the NFL approves the paperwork by Tuesday night -- Washington will gain salary cap relief for the 2005 season. Effective Wednesday, the Redskins would not get any salary cap benefit until 2006, giving Washington only two realistic choices: keep the disgruntled wideout or trade him and take a massive salary cap hit.

A trade that would send Redskins' Laveranues Coles, above, back to the Jets remains a slim possibility. (Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

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Coach Joe Gibbs has publicly ruled out releasing Coles. Although several teams have inquired about Coles, the 5-foot-11, 193-pounder has erected a major hurdle by requesting a contract extension from his new team. Trade negotiations for New York Jets wide receiver Santana Moss collapsed here Saturday morning after the Jets met with Coles's agent, Roosevelt Barnes. Both sides have flickering hopes that the trade will be resuscitated, sources said, if the Jets and Coles can agree on an extension.

In that trade proposal, the Redskins were willing to assume the $5 million bonus, which would increase Coles's value. Coles has a toe injury that has affected him for two seasons and may require surgery. However, Coles's new team would obtain one of the NFL's top wideouts at a relatively modest price: only $7.5 million over the next three seasons.

In the Samuels negotiations, both sides set a deadline for Tuesday at 4 p.m., when all NFL teams must be under the salary cap. But Washington has already maneuvered to more than $7 million under the cap. Assuming the Redskins retain Coles, restructuring Samuels's contract would provide Washington more salary cap flexibility for the free agent signing period, which begins Wednesday. The major impediment to not having extra room before Wednesday is the risk of free agent targets signing elsewhere because Washington doesn't have enough money right away. (Some of Washington's salary cap space will be eaten up when it makes tender offers Tuesday to its five restricted free agents and three exclusive-rights free agents.) Still, Washington can realistically sign some quality free agents without restructuring Samuels's contract. A problem looms if Washington hasn't reworked Samuels's contract and the club finds a trade partner for Coles, who is unhappy with the team's conservative offense.

Tuesday's deadline would have been far more critical if Washington had decided to release Samuels and create $4 million of cap space before free agency. But Gibbs has made it a priority to keep Samuels, at a cap-friendly contract. And waiving Samuels doesn't appear to be a consideration since Washington would lose a top player without compensation.

Meanwhile, reports of Washington's imminent signing of cornerback Samari Rolle are false, said several sources familiar with the situation. According to one club source, Rolle hasn't even been on Washington's list of free-agent targets, largely because of his asking price. One of the hottest rumors at the Indianapolis combine was Rolle going to Washington for a signing bonus of up to $15 million. (Gregg Williams, Washington's assistant head coach of defense, was Rolle's defensive coordinator at Tennessee for Rolle's first three NFL seasons. And Rolle is a former teammate of Redskins safeties coach Steve Jackson.) However, the misinformation was apparently spread to exploit owner Daniel Snyder's reputation for free spending while increasing Rolle's value in free agency. According to one NFL source, Rolle is scheduled to visit the Kansas City Chiefs on Wednesday.

The situation means that free agent cornerback Fred Smoot -- who has declined a $10 million bonus -- still has a chance to return to the Redskins for his fifth NFL season.

"Fred's desire is Washington, but there's a whole lot of fish out there in the sea," Smoot's agent, Bus Cooke, said Monday night. "We've had amicable talks with Mr. Snyder and Mr. Gibbs. We'll see how it plays out."

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