You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet New Redskins wideout Laveranues Coles has a fat $35 million deal, plus plenty of incentive to prove skeptics--and his former employer--wrong

August 10, 2003

Be honest. You didn't think he was worth it. No way should the
Washington Redskins have offered wideout Laveranues
Coles--Laveranues Coles!--$35 million over the next seven years,
including that absurd $13 million signing bonus, to leave the
New York Jets. You tsk-tsked when Coles cashed in on his
breakthrough 2002 season with the Jets and laughed along with
the talk-radio barnacles who pilloried the deal as typical of
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder's excess. When Coles waited for
congratulations that never came, you approved of the snub.

It was just such a backlash that floored Coles as he holed up in
his Jacksonville home last March, weighing the Redskins' proposal
against a Jets' offer that, according to Coles, initially
included a mere $6 million signing bonus. He had come so far,
getting past an admittedly "immature, dumb mistake"--in the fall
of 1999, while at Florida State, he accepted, along with fellow
Seminoles wideout Peter Warrick, an illegal discount on
merchandise from a Tallahassee department store. He survived
being kicked off the FSU team (unlike Warrick) for that and other
infractions; left school for three spartan months of conditioning
in Kenner, La., before the draft; and, once with the Jets, had
done, he says, "everything an organization could ask from a guy
who wasn't supposed to pan out." Says Coles, "I show up early,
I'm one of the last ones to leave, you don't read about me in the
paper. Heck, last year my coach named me the MVP of the team
before there was a vote. And this is how you say thanks? By
making me doubt myself again?" Having finally arrived, Coles felt
as if he were being sent to the back of the line again.

Coles, however, had decided that he was never going back. So
after three years in New York supplanting veterans (Dedric Ward)
and outdoing first-round draft picks (Santana Moss), Coles now
finds himself reclining in an office at the Redskins' Ashburn,
Va., facility, all smiles, betraying little bitterness toward his
former employers despite what seemed to him to be their
heavy-handed negotiations on the heels of his 89-catch,
1,264-yard, five-touchdown season. "When I signed here," Coles
says, "I thought people would be happy for me. Instead, everyone
just said Washington paid too much. Hey, that's cool. I've always
wanted to be good, but after all the negative reactions, now I
want to be great."

Coles is enjoying a stellar training camp with Washington,
continuing one of the more unlikely rises to stardom in the NFL
in recent years. It's hard to believe, but when he came into the
league, the 5'11", 188-pound Coles was considered an on-field
liability (below-average route running, too short), albeit a
speedy one. A ferocious competitor, he worked constantly on his
technique in sessions before and after practice with another
rookie, Jets quarterback Chad Pennington, improving his pass
catching in traffic and crossing routes over the middle.

Now, despite the intricacies of coach Steve Spurrier's sets,
offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has yet to see Coles run a
blown pass route. Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey relishes
having a receiver of Coles's caliber to practice against every
day. Coles has gone several practices without dropping a pass and
also has run his routes so quickly and precisely that second-year
quarterback Patrick Ramsey at first struggled to hit Coles in
stride. No matter, Ramsey still can't fathom his good fortune.
"Laveranues is fearless, has unbelievable hands and practices
harder than anyone," Ramsey says. "You can tell he's playing like
he has something to prove."

While Coles fields questions regarding his departure from New
York with Beltway-worthy aplomb, his antipathy toward Jets
management--and in particular, coach Herman Edwards--is plain. A
third-round draft pick in 2000 and the 13th wideout selected
(chart, below), Coles cracked the lineup through sheer force of
will, increasing his catch total from 22 to 59 to last year's 89,
good for second best on New York's alltime
single-season-receptions list. For his transcendent effort, Coles
says he was assured by Edwards at least twice that a new contract
would be done before the end of the season. Instead, all Coles
got was Edwards's MVP proclamation.

"Coach [Edwards] was saying that as long as he's there, I would
be. So there was no doubt in my mind. But it never happened." As
he weighed his decision, Coles says he was also bothered when
Pennington, a close friend, told him it was his understanding
that the Jets were offering $10 million in bonus and first-year
money. "I would barely have made that in three years," says
Coles.

Edwards declined to comment on Monday, and a team spokesman said
Pennington was unavailable for comment.

New York also misjudged the premium on Coles's services. The
organization tendered Coles, a restricted free agent, a one-year,
$1.3 million contract, which called for the team to get a No. 1
draft choice as compensation if it declined to match another
team's offer. Had the Jets increased their tender another
$450,000, the Redskins would have also had to fork over a
third-rounder, "and I'd still be a Jet," says Coles. Vinny
Cerrato, Washington's vice president of football operations,
agrees. "We never would've signed him for a [number] 1 and 3," he
says. To put the situation in perspective: The wideout-needy
Redskins would've had to trade their first-, second-and
third-round picks for a shot at one of the premier receivers in
the 2003 draft, Michigan State's Charles Rogers or Miami's Andre
Johnson (who went second and third overall), plus pay a figure
close to the $13 million bonus Coles received. "When we saw that,
it was a no-brainer," Cerrato says. "We just had to come up with
a figure the Jets wouldn't match."

According to Coles, before he signed the offer sheet the Jets
increased their signing bonus to $10 million. Coles says he
believes the Jets expected him to give the home team a discount
and accept the offer. Meanwhile, Coles says he was bombarded with
calls from Jets players and administrators, who reminded him of
his partnership with the budding Pennington. Indeed, the pair had
established an exceptionally close friendship over the three
seasons they spent together, and that friendship translated to
flawless chemistry when Pennington took over the Jets' starting
job last October. Having to say goodbye to Pennington was perhaps
Coles's biggest regret about moving on. "He made me, and I made
him," says Coles of Pennington. "We had the perfect
relationship."

Coles became a Redskin on March 19, a week after he signed the
offer sheet. That day Coles says Pennington called. "I just
watched our 2002 highlight video," Coles recalls his former
quarterback saying, "and I've got tears running down my cheeks."
Adds Coles, "It's nice to see the impact you have on other
players. Earning their respect is what drives me." That and the
nationally televised Sept. 4 opener at FedEx Field ... against
the Jets. (Give those NFL schedule makers a raise.) Told he can't
earn all $13 million in one day, Coles smiles. "Maybe," he says,
"but I sure can try."

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES CATCH THIS Coles has picked up the nuances of the Redskins' offense and has been snagging everything thrown his way. COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO BREAKOUT YEAR Coles caught 89 passes in 2002, matching the second-best total in Jets history.

HEAD OF THE CLASS

A dozen wide receivers were drafted ahead of Laveranues Coles in
2000, but since the start of the 2001 season, he leads his class
in receptions and is second in receiving yards. --David Sabino

DRAFT PICK YARDS
PLAYER, 2003 TEAM ROUND NUMBER CATCHES YARDS PER CATCH TDS

Laveranues Coles, 3 78 148 2,132 14.4 12
Redskins
Plaxico Burress, 1 8 144 2,333 16.2 13
Steelers
Darrell Jackson, 3 80 132 1,958 14.8 12
Seahawks
Peter Warrick, 1 4 123 1,273 10.3 7
Bengals
Travis Taylor, 1 10 103 1,429 13.9 9
Ravens

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)