The Washington Redskins reached an agreement on a contract extension yesterday with left tackle Chris Samuels, giving the team additional flexibility under the NFL-mandated salary cap as the annual free agency period got underway, NFL sources said. But a last-ditch effort to revive a trade that would have sent disgruntled wide receiver Laveranues Coles to the New York Jets appeared to have ended, increasing the likelihood that Coles will remain with the Redskins next season.
Samuels's seven-year deal is worth roughly $47 million and includes the richest signing bonus in franchise history, one source with knowledge of the negotiations said. The $15.75 million bonus slightly exceeds linebacker LaVar Arrington's $15.5 million figure for an extension reached in December 2003.
Washington initially wanted to restructure Samuels's contract to help lessen the impact of the proposed Coles trade on the Redskins' salary cap, a ceiling on player payrolls that is set at $85.5 million per team for the upcoming season.
But the Coles-for-Santana Moss trade collapsed over the weekend when the Jets and Coles's representative, Roosevelt Barnes, could not agree on a contract extension. The Jets, with the Redskins' permission, tried to revive the trade in recent days, one NFL source said. But the sides were so far apart that the renewed talks were fruitless, sources said.
As a result, unless the Redskins are able to find another team willing to meet Coles's demands, or a club that chooses to ignore his requests, Washington will be forced to retain the 5-foot-11, 193-pound receiver despite his unhappiness with the team's conservative offense under Coach Joe Gibbs. Coles caught 90 passes last season, seventh highest in the NFL, but had a career-low yards-per-catch average of 10.6 yards.
Coles, who cost the Redskins a first-round draft pick when they acquired him as a restricted free agent in 2003, had asked Washington to release him so that he could sign with another team, and was willing to forfeit a $5 million deferred signing bonus payment due April 1. But the Redskins have been unwilling to let him go without compensation.
Gibbs has emphasized that the Redskins will bring Coles back if the club can't trade him for equal value. A source close to Coles said that although Coles prefers that Washington find a trade partner, he has started to become resigned to returning to the Redskins. The unhappy wideout has told at least one teammate that he will exhibit his characteristic hard play if he returns.
The maneuvering over Coles came as free agency opened at midnight. Last spring, the Redskins had the most active offseason in franchise history, changing about half of the 53-man roster. Gibbs has said that the Redskins won't be as aggressive this year.
Washington has several free agents it hopes to retain, headlined by linebacker Antonio Pierce and cornerback Fred Smoot. Whether the club can re-sign those players will determine how much the roster is reconstructed through free agency in the days ahead. Pierce and Smoot have indicated that they will test the market, then provide Washington an opportunity to match any contract.
With wide receiver Rod Gardner expected to be traded for a mid- to low-round draft pick, the Redskins have placed a priority on finding a wideout in free agency. The top two available are Plaxico Burress of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Derrick Mason of the Tennessee Titans. But whether Washington pursues either player -- both would command rich contracts -- depends on whether Coles will definitely return.
The Redskins hope to acquire Baltimore Ravens center Casey Rabach, the top available center in free agency. Rabach likely will be at Redskins Park today, said one source, possibly with a new deal. If Washington can't sign Rabach, the other top free agent center is Seattle's Robbie Tobeck.
A contract extension for Samuels would end speculation that Washington would consider releasing or trading the tackle because his contract had become a salary cap albatross. Samuels was scheduled to count an unwieldy $9.5 million against the cap this season. And a clause in Samuels's contract would have made him an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Last offseason, Samuels was frequently mentioned in trade rumors, with his salary situation cited as the driving force. But Washington would have been hard-pressed to execute a trade this year because teams are reluctant to trade for a soon-to-be free agent. Releasing Samuels would have provided the Redskins about $4 million in cap space. Yet Washington wouldn't have received compensation for Samuels, the third overall pick in the 2000 draft.
Meanwhile, the Redskins gave the lowest tender offer of $656,000 to four restricted free agents: tailback Rock Cartwright, defensive end Demetric Evans, quarterback Tim Hasselbeck and safety Andre Lott. Washington's only other restricted free agent, safety Todd Franz didn't receive a tender offer, which makes him an unrestricted free agent.
Restricted free agents have limited ability to switch teams. If another club signs one of Washington's restricted free agents, Washington has seven days to match. And should Washington not do so, the new club usually must part with a draft pick from the round in which the player was selected.
The Redskins also tendered three exclusive-rights players: linebacker Chris Clemons, kicker Jeff Chandler and defensive end Ron Warner. Issuing tenders to this group -- players with less than three accrued seasons -- prohibits another team from offering a contract.