|Friday, March 14
Updated: March 18, 8:24 PM ET
In the end, Jets unlikely to keep Coles
By Len Pasquarelli
Now that New York Jets officials finally have in hand the blockbuster offer sheet to which restricted free agent wide receiver Laveranues Coles agreed late Sunday, but which wasn't filed with the NFL office until Thursday, they will probably take a full week deliberating whether to match it or to permit him to move to the Washington Redskins.
Three league personnel directors, whose opinions mean a lot to us, insisted to ESPN.com this week that the Jets won't be the same team minus Coles. Two of them rated him superior to Peerless Price, acquired by Atlanta in a trade with Buffalo last week, and the third assessed them as equal. One of the personnel mavens called Coles a "no-brainer" choice over Price.
"Some of my peers, with whom I debated the deal, keep pointing out that Coles only scored five touchdowns last year on nearly 90 catches," said one of the personnel directors. "And, yeah, that's true. But you watch Coles on tape and you see how significant a playmaker he is for them. They aren't just going to be able to readily plug someone else into that spot."
New York officials have contacted unrestricted free agent Kevin Dyson and toyed with the idea of calling Curtis Conway; the Jets visited with the former on Thursday. Neither veteran, though, can approximate Cole's skills. Dyson still has potential, but has been frequently injured, and the book on Conway is that he has lost a step.
The team huddled with restricted free agent Darrell Jackson of Seattle on Thursday, and -- while the three-year veteran has career numbers superior to those of Coles -- he simply isn't the same player. Jackson even has more 40-yard catches than Coles in three seasons (11-4), but most scouts don't feel he has the same big-play dimension, and is more of a No. 2 receiver, a threat in the intermediate areas but not a guy who is a home-run hitter.
Jackson is also known as being a bit immature. And having suffered through a seizure last Oct. 27 after sustaining a concussion at Dallas, he will have to be thoroughly checked out medically. And the Jets would have to sign him to an offer sheet and hope Seattle would not match it, essentially the same waiting game the Redskins are forced into with Coles, and possibly send the Seahawks a first-round choice as compensation.
So those, for now at least, are the Jets' options if they let Coles walk.
Of course, there is always the draft. The Jets would have a pair of first-round choices, the 13th and 22nd picks overall, if they do not match the Coles offer. It would be a "reach" to take a wide receiver like Taylor Jacobs of Florida at the higher of those two choices, but not with the 22nd selection. And the Jets scouts are also said to like Tennessee wide receiver Kelley Washington, who would provide them a big pass-catcher to team with Wayne Chrebet and Santana Moss.
A year from now the quarterback and defensive end, respectively, will be headed into the final season of their original contracts. They are players the Jets cannot afford to lose, at arguably the most essential positions in the NFL now -- one guy who throws passes and the other who knocks down the opposition passer. Bet the mortgage that, in the spring of 2004 (if not before that), the Jets will be trying to negotiate long-term contract extensions with both Pennington and Abraham.
So let's say the Jets match the Redskins' largesse to Coles and welcome him back to the fold, he and his $13 million signing bonus. That $13 million in upfront money then becomes the starting point for the agents of Pennington and Abraham when they sit down to bargain extensions for their clients.
It would be like handing a safecracker the combination to the bank vault lock. Tom Condon, the agent for Pennington and a guy who has negotiated some of the biggest deals in league history, is probably lighting novena candles right now and hoping the Jets match the Coles deal.
It would, essentially, provide him all the leverage he needed to make a solid argument that his client, one of the league's emerging stars and perhaps the NFL's most accurate (albeit weak-armed) quarterback, should get more than the $13 million signing bonus Coles squeezed out of Dan Snyder. Uh, can anyone say $20 million, as Condon's opening gambit?
Therein lies the conundrum for New York officials.
They must consider this compelling tradeoff: Spend a lot of money to match the Coles offer sheet and then spend even more on Pennington and Abraham next spring. Or allow Coles to move on to Washington, as a demonstration of fiscal prudence, and not have that $13 million signing bonus all teed up as leverage for Abraham and Pennington when they begin contract talks.
None of this is to suggest that the Jets could not afford all three veterans. Last spring they pulled off a fairly remarkable trifecta - completing new and lucrative agreements with tailback Curtis Martin, center Kevin Mawae and Chrebet -- when the skeptics said they couldn't pull if off. Since assistant general manager Mike Tannenbaum is one of the league's premier cap specialists, a prince of contract permutations, anything is possible.
But the Jets had the NFL's fattest payroll in 2002, a fact about which some members of club management remain sensitive, and still watched the Super Bowl on television. Last year was a payroll aberration, the Jets argue, with so many key players to re-sign. In 2003, New York won't come close to its 2002 payroll, but could exceed it a year from now if forced to bargain with Pennington and Abraham while using Coles' deal as a launching point.
And that is why, when the deadline for deciding Coles' future finally arrives on Thursday, the Jets figure to swallow hard and let him depart.
They can preach the league's carpe diem philosophy, but practicing it is another matter entirely, Jets officials likely understand. The salary cap mistakes of today usually haunt a franchise tomorrow.
The Jets, in the end, figure to let Snyder deal with the problem of balancing his salary cap when the really big numbers in the Coles deal kick in.
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In Snyder's defense, he had to clear sufficient cap room to actually sign Coles to the offer sheet, because the resultant cap number counts against the Washington spending limit until the Jets resolve the issue by either matching or passing. But the prudent move would have been to stay mum about Coles until the cap room space was carved out.
When 'Skins director of football operations Joe Mendes phoned the Jets on Wednesday evening to alert them they would be receiving an offer sheet via fax, the response from the New York functionary was pretty funny. "Yeah, no (kidding), Joe," said the Jets official of the week's worst-kept secret.
By the way, the NFL Players Association is challenging the Jets' decision to match the offer sheet to Morton, claiming they did not match the "voidable" clause for the final two seasons of the five-year deal. The case will be arbitrated within 10 days, but, according to several league sources, the chances that Morton would actually go to the Redskins are slim.
Baltimore and Dallas are two teams that could monitor the Griese situation closely over the next few months. The Ravens are content for now to list Chris Redman as their starter, but the three-year veteran is coming off January back surgery for a herniated disc and still hasn't demonstrated he is fully rehabilitated. Anyone who has undergone back surgery knows just how dicey a procedure it can be.
Baltimore coach Brian Billick has added quarterbacks late in the spring before, and they have been productive for him at times, so he could probably deal with landing Griese in early June if he and general manager Ozzie Newsome felt that was a prudent move. The one deterrent would be if the Ravens select Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich in the first round.
The Cowboys are still evaluating youngsters Chad Hutchinson and Quincy Carter, but it is hard to imagine Bill Parcells being overly enamored with players who are so inconsistent. There were rampant, and erroneous, rumors this week that the Cowboys would meet with Griese in a get-acquainted session. That never occurred, in part because the league, in an incredible display of short-sightedness, won't permit Griese to visit other teams, even though he is free to seek a trade. Don't be surprised, though, if the Cowboys indicate some interest in Griese when he is released.
And here's an eye-opener: In the last five seasons, Seau has averaged only 5.4 "big plays " -- a combination of sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles and fumbles recovered. In that five-year span, he has just 13 sacks. The reality is, teams are not going to invest big bucks in linebackers who are just run-stuffers, and that's what Seau is at this point in his career. Chances are, he won't find a team willing to surrender a draft choice for him and will be released.
Desperate for a tailback, uncertain if DeShaun Foster will ever play again following the controversial "microfracture" procedure on his knee last summer, the Panthers tossed Davis a lifeline. What they did not throw at him, nor did anyone else, was the kind of upfront dollars he was seeking.
When he was interviewing potential new representatives a few weeks ago, after original agent Steve Weinberg had been decertified and was no longer able to serve as his mouthpiece, Davis told at least two of them that he wanted a "Tiki Barber type of deal." The New York Giants star received a combined $7 million in a signing bonus and option bonus two years ago.
But in his new contract, Davis fell far shy of that, like $5 million shy. The $2.5 million signing bonus he will get from the Panthers has to be disappointing for a player who was one of the NFL's most prolific runners over the past four seasons. Fact is, though, Davis was fortunate to get that. Only two teams, Carolina and Houston, vied for his services. The Texans never made a formal offer, and at one point last week, a Houston source told ESPN.com he felt Davis would struggle to get a $2 million signing bonus and an average-per-year of $2 million.
At the end, the Panthers essentially bid against themselves. Houston never made a formal offer. The Texans actually might have gone as high as $3 million on the signing bonus, but were turned off by how Davis and agent David Canter approached the endgame of negotiations.
The Davis deal is a prime example, especially this year, of how a tighter free-agent market is blunting expectations. Players who don't heed the warning signs, and become very pragmatic about their negotiations, could be left scrounging for minimum-salary contracts in June and July.
Oh, yeah, about that $35 million that Davis could earn in his new contract. Over $20 million of it is tied to personal and team achievements, and -- at age 29 and with a franchise still in the rebuilding mode -- Davis is unlikely to see most of the bonus cash.
Said one league source: "Maybe if he leads the league in rushing, is named most valuable player, the Panthers win the Super Bowl and he's the MVP in that game, he'll see the money."
Houston, by the way, will probably sign Jacksonville free agent tailback Stacey Mack to challenge second-year pro Jonathan Wells for the top job.
Although most reports had the Colvin contract as a seven-year, $30 million deal, NFLPA salary documents show it at six years, $25.85 million. Essentially, for a veteran some people felt was the premier player in the unrestricted pool, the Patriots paid only the going rate for a linebacker, a little over $4 million annually. There is a $6 million signing bonus and base salaries of $550,000 (for 2003), $2.1 million (2004), $2.6 million (2005), $3.6 million (2006), $4.6 million (2007) and $5.5 million (2008). There are additional incentives of $300,000 each for the final three years.
Harrison signed a six-year contract worth $14.45 million, but no one expects him to play more than two or three years of the deal. His signing bonus was $2.5 million and, in the first three years of the package, he will earn $6.655 million.
Colvin will provide a pass rush for a defense that hasn't had a player with double-digit sacks in five years. Harrison is on the wrong side of 30, and perhaps is too much like incumbent Patriots safety Lawyer Milloy, but the Patriots play split safeties on such a high number of snaps that it doesn't matter.
The week before the Patriots landed Colvin and Harrison, they signed cornerback Tyrone Poole to a market value deal. Later this week, they added safety Chris Akins, a solid No. 3 guy at the position and an excellent special teams player. All in all, it's been a very productive two weeks for the team.
Adams prefers to play in Buffalo, obviously, where he would line up next to longtime friend Pat Williams in the interior of the Bills front four. But the veteran run-stuffer waited too long last year to pull the trigger on a deal, didn't sign with the Raiders until August, and figures he cost himself a lot of money. Adams is smart enough to realize that the money in the free agent well is drying up quickly now and he won't wait forever on the Bills to get into what he feels his price range should be.
In the next week or so, if there is no deal with Buffalo, he will begin exploring options. And don't be surprised if the Ravens are at the top of his list.
Lewis has said he will take the best player available, and many feel that points to Palmer, the Heisman Trophy winner. But the best player ready to contribute right now for the Bengals, or maybe any other team, might be Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman. The top cornerback prospect might well be the top prospect, period, in this year's lottery. After lighting things up in a combine workout, he did even better in his campus session with some scouts clocking him at under 4.3 seconds in the 40.
In the wake of that ill-advised decision, Scioli fired Senior and hired veteran agent Brad Blank to represent him. Blank got the deal done with the Colt,s but it was hardly the same proposal Scioli could have had earlier. Instead of a $4.5 million signing bonus, Scioli got just $1 million. There is a guarantee of $1.5 million in 2005, so that makes up for some of the lost bonus money. But the deal, essentially at five years for $13 million, falls shy of what the player originally rejected.
Blank did a good job resurrecting the talks with the Colts, who were mightily miffed at Scioli and ready to move on without him, but the player and his former agent made a costly decision in opting not to accept the first offer.
Right down to the end, Tice felt his team would land Brown, and rightly so. The one-year deal to which Brown agreed with the Ravens is worth just $1 million. The Vikings offered a deal that would have paid Brown $2.5 million in 2003. And there was a four-year proposal that was worth $13 million. Brown wanted to be closer to his children, though, and opted for the Ravens deal.
What Tice envisioned, had Minnesota landed Brown, was the NFL's most mammoth offensive line, one behind which smallish tailback Michael Bennett would have been able to hide. The presence of Brown (6-feet-7, a conservative 350 pounds) would have permitted the Vikings to move Chris Liwienski (6-5, 321) to left guard. The rest of the lineup would have consisted of left tackle Bryant McKinnie (6-8, 343), center Matt Birk (6-4, 308) and right guard David Dixon (6-5, 359). Minnesota, which very quietly led the league in rushing in '02, would have had five road graders across the line.
But the truth of the matter is, Jackson was an above-average player surrounded by greatness on the NFL's premier defensive unit, and that last fact surely didn't hurt him. Now he's going to be playing behind the NFL's worst pass rush, a unit that has posted a measly 65 sacks over the last three seasons, including just 21 in 2002.
Quarterbacks have been known to age just sitting in the pocket and waiting for an Arizona blitzer to get close. That will make Jackson's task exceedingly more difficult than it was in Tampa Bay, where the Bucs always applied pressure. Some scouts aren't sure Jackson is as good as the man he is replacing, Kwamie Lassiter, even if he is seven years his junior. He probably isn't as good, either, as Cardinals strong safety Adrian Wilson, his new partner and an emerging star in the league.
The Last Word
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.