The Washington Redskins were attempting to sign one wide receiver yesterday while officially welcoming another. Club officials tried to finalize a contract agreement with Raghib Ismail, even as Laveranues Coles arrived at Redskins Park on the day after the team obtained him when the New York Jets declined to match a seven-year, $35 million offer sheet.
"That's a lot of money," Coles said during an early-afternoon news conference. "They expect me to come in here and do some things. I'm just going to come in here and try my best, whether it's catching 100 balls or blocking or talking to the guys before a game."
The Redskins hoped to add Ismail today to a group of wide receivers now headed by Coles and Rod Gardner. The club continued exchanging contract proposals yesterday with Ismail's Washington-based representative, Lon Babby. It appeared early last night that the two sides were on the verge of an agreement, but their progress slowed and it was unclear later in the evening if they were going to be able to finish a deal. Sources said the sides were trying to agree on a contract structure that would adequately address the possibilities of Ismail getting hurt or retiring.
"I know he wants to play, and I think he's anxious about playing," said Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins' director of player personnel. "The thing about Rocket is, he's got four kids. He's lived in Dallas. It'll be a tough move for him. I'm not sure exactly what's holding things up, but hopefully it'll be done quickly."
Ismail was released by the Dallas Cowboys last month and is an unrestricted free agent. He sat out all of last season after undergoing neck surgery, and recently informed the Redskins he planned to retire before reconsidering. The Redskins already have added swiftness with Coles, wide receiver Patrick Johnson and tailback Trung Canidate, and Ismail would bring more speed.
"We can run a track team," Cerrato said. "We can run a 4-by-100. You've got playmakers on the field. You can complete a ball five yards and go 80 with it. You'll cause a lot of defensive coordinators problems because they've got to worry about the game-breakers."
Coles acknowledged there will be pressure on him to perform after he received a $13 million signing bonus as part of the hefty contract that led the Jets to allow him to leave as a restricted free agent. The Jets received the Redskins' first-round draft choice next month as compensation.
"I can't relax," Coles said. "I can't just be satisfied with getting the money. I have to go out there and perform or I'm going to be criticized by yourself and others like you."
Redskins Coach Steve Spurrier noted that Coles's reception totals went from 22 to 59 to 89 in his three seasons with the Jets, and said: "At the pace he's going, we expect him to catch 121 passes next year."
Jets General Manager Terry Bradway accused the Redskins on Wednesday of overpaying for Coles. Spurrier said: "I heard the other team say it wasn't the right value. Only time will tell. We certainly think it is. We think he's one of the best receivers in the NFL."
Coles quickly became the favorite target of the Jets' young quarterback, Chad Pennington. He said he plans to follow the same formula with Patrick Ramsey.
"I think this is pretty much a quarterback-driven offense," Coles said. "I just have to try to fit in the way he wants me to fit in. The coaches will help me with it also. I think that's going to be very important for the team, to develop a relationship not only with the quarterback, but with the other guys on the team." Ramsey watched Coles's introductory news conference from the back of the auditorium at the team's training facility, and said later: "For me, it's the opportunity of a lifetime. I'm excited about getting started and being successful this year."
Redskins Notes: NFL Players Association attorney Richard Berthelsen said yesterday that an arbitration hearing to resolve the case of Jets kick returner Chad Morton has been scheduled for April 3. The NFLPA is seeking to have Morton awarded to the Redskins. The Jets matched the Redskins' five-year, $8 million offer sheet to the restricted free agent but, after receiving a ruling from the NFL's management council, did not match a provision to void the final two years of the contract. . . .
Defensive end Bruce Smith met with Spurrier and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and said he is "pretty optimistic" that he will return for a 19th NFL season but he wasn't ready to make it official. Members of the organization said they expected to make Smith a pass-rush specialist next season when they signed Regan Upshaw to be the starter at right end. Smith said the Upshaw signing didn't bother him, but he and Spurrier indicated there will be competition for the starting job.