Possible Coles trade stuck in salary cap limbo

INDIANAPOLIS -- Several league and team sources attending the annual NFL predraft combine workouts confirmed for ESPN.com Thursday that the Washington Redskins have at least three franchises legitimately interested in trading for unhappy wide receiver Laveranues Coles.

But even with no lack of suitors for Coles, the Redskins still face this knotty problem in trying to strike a deal, one which would likely bring a high-round draft pick in return: Because of the convoluted salary cap ramifications, the Redskins can't peddle Coles to another club until they sell offensive tackle Chris Samuels on restructuring his current and burdensome contract.

And while the Redskins have crept a bit closer to Samuels on a reworked contract, which would extend his current deal and provide Washington much-needed cap relief for 2005, there remains plenty of work to be done to consummate an agreement.

"Right now," said a high-ranking official from one of the franchises attempting to acquire Coles from Washington, "the Redskins are (stuck). They simply can't absorb, at least not yet, the cap hit they'll take from trading Coles. They need to find room and the obvious way is to finish off a new deal with Samuels. But I guess that's not done yet."

The salary cap math involved in the Coles mess: If Washington trades the wide receiver, whom they signed as a restricted free agent in 2003, forfeiting a first-round draft choice to the New York Jets in that transaction, they face a cap impact in excess of $9 million. Efforts to have Coles bypass a $5 million deferred signing bonus due him on April 1, a move that would have dramatically decreased the cap hit, seem to have fallen apart. Coles had originally agreed to forfeit the $5 million, but only as part of an agreement that he would be released, and able to choose his next team.

The Redskins don't have the cap space sufficient to afford the $9 million charge that would accompany a Coles trade. But Samuels, whose cap charge for 2005 is $9.5 million and who is due $6.5 million in base salary and bonuses, can provide desperately needed room if he agrees to a new deal.

Samuels, 27, is agreeable to an extension but the numbers must be right before the five-year veteran, a first-round pick in the 2000 draft, signs off on a reworked contract. As of Thursday afternoon, despite accelerated negotiations between the Redskins and Samuels' agent, an accord was not imminent.

Agent Jimmy Sexton in January sent the Redskins a contract proposal that was rejected by Washington officials. A month later, the Redskins would love to strike a deal based on those January figures. Problem is, with the big-money contracts already signed during this offseason by Walter Jones of Seattle and Indianapolis' Ryan Diem, the financial landscape for offensive tackles has been significantly altered.

Jones received a signing bonus of $16 million on a seven-year contract with total value of $52.5 million. Although he is one of the better left tackles in the league, Samuels does not rate in Jones' elite class, but still will merit a contract with a signing bonus close to what Jones received an a per-year average of at least $6 million.

Until the Redskins come up with the right figures, though, the three teams interested in acquiring Coles figure to be cooling their heels.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.