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Friday, March 14
Updated: March 18, 8:24 PM ET
 
In the end, Jets unlikely to keep Coles

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

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.

Laveranues Coles
Laveranues Coles led the Jets with 89 receptions last season.
At first blush, a $13 million signing bonus that ranks as one of the highest upfront payments in league history appears to be the biggest deterrent to matching, but even some Redskins officials acknowledge that the deal is relatively cap friendly over its first three seasons. That element, plus the fact the Jets aren't likely to adequately replace Coles anytime soon, could tempt New York to equal the lucrative offer sheet.

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.

But here are two of the biggest reasons why the Jets will find it difficult to match the Coles offer sheet: Chad Pennington and John Abraham.

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.

When the deadline for deciding Coles' future finally arrives on Thursday, the Jets figure to swallow hard and let him depart.

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.

Around the league

  • Silence is golden, Dan: Snyder is a smart man but one thing he needs to learn is to bite his tongue about offer sheets to which he is about to sign players. In the case of Coles, and Jets kickoff return specialist Chad Morton as well, he all but announced the deals days before the offer sheets were filed with the league.

    Chad Morton
    Morton
    The accord with Coles was struck, for instance, last Sunday night. But the formal offer sheet didn't go into the league office until Thursday morning. So what's the big deal about a few days gap? It provided New York officials three days to begin formulating strategy on Coles before the seven-day lock began ticking on their deadline to match the offer sheet. Even before the Jets had the offer sheet in hand, they were arranging visits with potential replacements, and in general pow-wowing over the sagacity of keeping Coles and spending $13 million to do so.

    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.

  • Griese's options: For now, the door to a starting job seems closed to Denver quarterback Brian Griese, who now must sit and wait to be released after June 1 so that the Broncos can split a $9.26 million cap hit over this year and next. But that doesn't mean Griese, who told Miami-area newspapers this week that he would consider serving as Jay Fiedler's backup if all the starting spots were taken, won't get a shot to be the top guy on someone's depth chart.

    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.

  • Not shocked about Seau: Friday's early morning story that the San Diego Chargers have given linebacker Junior Seau permission to seek a trade for himself, and that he will be cut if a deal can't be arranged, was surprising but not altogether shocking. While he still plays with great passion and has been the team's ultimate warrior over his celebrated 13-year career, many scouts feel Seau has declined in the last three seasons.

    Junior Seau
    Seau
    Sure, that might be sacrilegious to suggest in San Diego, where Seau is justifiably revered. But the numbers, at least in part, support the notion that Seau, 34, is no longer a Pro Bowl-caliber defender. In six of his first seven seasons, he posted over 100 tackles, but has gone over the century mark only twice in the last six years and just once in his four most recent campaigns.

    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.

  • Down market for Davis: This week's headlines that announced he could earn $35 million over the course of the five-year contract Stephen Davis will sign with the Carolina Panthers must have produced a semblance of gratification for the veteran tailback. But someone is going to have to explain to Davis, released by the Washington Redskins last month, how it was that the market for his services was so uninspiring.

    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.

    Rosevelt Colvin
    Colvin

  • Patriots deserve a pat on the back: The Patriots did a masterful job of flying under the radar screen to land a pair of standout defenders, linebacker Rosevelt Colvin and strong safety Rodney Harrison, early this week. Neither player had been very strongly connected to New England until their deals were done. And the Pats got both players at a relatively reasonable price.

    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 banking on Bills: Free-agent defensive tackle Sam Adams has said publicly that he will not make any more visits as he awaits an offer from the Buffalo Bills, but that could change next week. The Baltimore Ravens, for whom Adams played in 2000-2001 before going to the Oakland Raiders last year, would like to get him back, and they've got more than sufficient cap funds.

    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.

  • Newman could be Bengals' best bet: Don't read too much into the fact that, on the day Southern California quarterback Carson Palmer worked out this week, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was at the on-campus audition of Kentucky defensive end Dewayne Robertson. The Bengals, who hold the first pick in the draft, will have a private session with Palmer later in the spring.

    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.

    Brad Scioli
    Scioli

  • Hesitation move hurts Scioli's wallet: He who hesitates in the dwindling free-agent market may not be lost, but could lose lots of money, and Indianapolis defensive lineman Brad Scioli is a prime example. As noted here last week, Scioli and former agent Brett Senior two weeks ago turned down a multi-year offer from the Colts that averaged $4 million per year and included a $4.5 million signing bonus.

    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.

  • Carolina in Sehorn's 'corner': Given his past relationship with Carolina head coach John Fox, it was no surprise that former New York Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn made his first visit to find a new job a Thursday visit with Panthers officials. What was a bit surprising, however, was that general manager Marty Hurney said the Panthers still feel Sehorn can line up at cornerback. Most of the other clubs that have indicated an interest think Sehorn can extend his career by moving to free safety. Look for a relatively quick decision by Sehorn, maybe as early as next week, on where he will play in 2003.

  • Tice loses out on Brown: No one was more disappointed when Orlando Brown decided to sign with the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night, and end a three-year hiatus caused by an errantly tossed penalty flag that struck him in the eye, than Mike Tice. The Minnesota coach courted Brown hard, made him the team's second-most important priority in the offseason, and planned on having him be the anchor of the right side of the Vikings line.

    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.

  • Jackson's Super fame pays off: Having become the latest example of how the elevator ride from the penthouse to the outhouse is a short one, by leaving the Tampa Bay Bucs to scarf up a five-year, $14 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals, free safety Dexter Jackson is about to find out how the other half lives.

    Dexter Jackson
    Jackson
    Give him credit for this: Jackson's 15 minutes of fame came on the biggest sports stage -- the Super Bowl -- where his two interceptions earned him most valuable player honors when the league rigged the voting. Maybe he would have still generated a lot of interest in free agency without that clutch performance, but the Super Bowl game certainly enhanced his profile and, eventually, his paycheck.

    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.

  • Atlanta has talks about Thompson: The Atlanta Falcons, who traded one restricted free agent already this spring by sending linebacker Mark Simoneau to the Philadelphia Eagles for a pair of draft choices, came close this week to dealing another. Atlanta had trade discussions with San Francisco and Seattle, ESPN.com has learned, about three-year offensive tackle Michael Thompson. Either deal would have netted the Falcons a mid-round draft choice for Thompson, selected in the fourth round of the 2000 lottery. Atlanta backed away from the deals, apparently because swapping Thompson would have left it perilously thin behind starting tackles Bob Whitfield and Todd Weiner. In three seasons, Thompson has played in only a dozen games and has three starts, but there are obviously teams who still feel he has a solid upside.

  • Steinberg, Assante divorce reported: Word in the agent community is that Leigh Steinberg and Assante Corp., the Canadian financial management giant that purchased his agency a few years ago, could soon part ways. On the heels of his $40 million-plus court victory over former partner David Dunn, it seems Steinberg is authoring a comeback of sorts in this year's draft, after a disastrous 2002. What will be interesting to see, if Steinberg indeed departs Assante, is if longtime partner Jeff Moorad goes with him. The buzz is that Moorad, now one of the most powerful agents in baseball, would prefer to maintain the status quo.

  • Name that field: Here's the surest sign of how bad the economy is right now across the country. The Green Bay Packers are struggling to sell the naming rights to legendary Lambeau Field. Most people felt there would be no problem in finding a company willing to ante up for the right to slap its name on one of the league's most hallowed edifices, but that is hardly the case.

    Takeo Spikes
    Spikes

  • Spikes' numbers: The breakdown on the contract that "transition" free agent linebacker Takeo Spikes signed with the Buffalo Bills: The initial signing bonus is $9 million, and there is a second-tier option bonus of $1.5 million that is due next spring. The base salaries are $1 million (2003), $2.5 million (2004), $3.5 million (2005), $4.5 million (2006), $4.5 million (2007) and $5 million (2008). There are workout bonuses of $100,000 each 2004-2008.

  • The price for Price: The deal that Bills "franchise" wide receiver Peerless Price signed with the Falcons, after being traded for a first-round draft choice: A signing bonus of $10 million. Base salaries of $530,000 (2003), $1.97 million (2004), $2 million (2005), $4.4 million (2006), $4.4 million (2007), $4 million (2008) and $5.5 million (2009). The final season voids if Price reaches certain predetermined playing-time levels in any of the first six years. There are workout bonuses of $250,000 each for 2004 and 2005 and of $100,000 each for 2006 and 2007. The deal also includes roster bonuses of $500,000 each for 2006-2007 and of $1 million each for 2008-2009.

  • Tough group of tight ends: There might not be that one outstanding prospect, like Jeremy Shockey, among the tight end class in this year's draft. But the position is a very deep one and will produce a lot of solid players. Beyond former Tennessee star Jason Witten, there are guys like Bennie Joppru (Michigan), Dallas Clark (Iowa) and L.J. Smith (Rutgers), among others, who are going to be fine NFL players. Clark is an incredible athlete and clocked a 4.62 time at his campus workout this week, in addition to a 37 -inch vertical jump and an amazingly quick 3.85-second time in the 20-yard shuttle drill. Smith is on the rise as well and some scouts feel he is the best pure receiver among the tight end bunch this year.

    Punts

  • Tailback Musa Smith, who ran in the low-to-mid 4.4s this week, was one of several University of Georgia players who improved their stock. Linebacker Boss Bailey tweaked his hamstring, but some scouts still had him at 4.38-4.42 in the 40, and he had a 45 -inch vertical jump. Offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb continues to help himself, following up a very strong combine performance with a terrific workout that included 35 "reps" in the standard 225-pound bench press.

  • Although he departed Tampa without a contract offer on Thursday, former Chicago quarterback Jim Miller is still likely to sign with the Bucs. Tampa Bay is also taking a look at Bobby Hoying, who is said to be back throwing well after shoulder surgery. He is a favorite of coach Jon Gruden, who had him in Philadelphia and Oakland.

  • The Bengals are all but certain to match the two-year, $1.8 million offer sheet that restricted free agent linebacker Armegis Spearman signed with Green Bay on Thursday.

  • The Arizona Cardinals, buoyed by their free agency successes this week, are targeting unrestricted defensive end Vonnie Holliday as their next catch. The former Packers starter has also drawn interest from Seattle, but that could end if the Seahawks land end Hugh Douglas.

  • There is a very good chance that Oakland starting tight end Roland Williams, who underwent knee and toe surgeries recently, will not be ready for the beginning of the regular season.

    The Last Word
    "I wasn't flashy. I was a blue-collar type. I was born in Detroit, I played in Buffalo, and I got traded to Cleveland. My biggest fear was that Gary, Ind., would get an expansion team."
    -- Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.









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