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Redskins opt for Coles over draft

The Redskins have decided that Laveranues Coles is better than anyone they can get with the 13th overall pick in the draft.

The Jets confirmed Monday that Washington offered their outstanding young receiver a seven-year contract worth about $35-million, including a $13-million signing bonus.

New York has a week to match the offer for Coles, a restricted free agent who had 89 catches last season. If it doesn't, it will receive Washington's first-round pick.

Coles is the fourth member of the Jets pursued by the Redskins. They also have tendered an offer to punt returner Chad Morton and signed guard Randy Thomas and kicker John Hall.

"I think it's more coincidence than anything else," Jets general manager Terry Bradway said.

Pending a physical, the Redskins expected Coles to sign the offer sheet late Monday.

Coles would fill Washington's need for a speedy, big-play receiver opposite Rod Gardner. They planned to draft such a player _ such as Miami's Andre Johnson _ by trading picks to move up on draft day, but Coles would give them a proven talent at roughly the same price without risking a training camp holdout.

Coles' agent, Roosevelt Barnes, did not return calls seeking comment. Coles has said he was disappointed by the Jets' initial contract offer, believed to include a $6-million signing bonus.

Coles, called the team MVP by coach Herman Edwards, developed rapidly in his third season _ and first with Chad Pennington at quarterback.

"He has become very good," Edwards said. "Compare him to anyone. He gets the ball a whole lot, and that is important. He is a playmaker _ he shows it every time and he wants the ball."

While New York has enough money under the salary cap to match Washington's offer _ more than $5-million _ it also must consider whether to match Morton's offer by Thursday.

Morton, told by the Redskins he would get an opportunity to play running back for them, signed a five-year, $8-million deal, with a $2.5-million signing bonus. New York would receive a fifth-round draft pick as compensation for Morton.

Coles planned to play the 2003 season under the Jets' one-year tender offer of $1.3-million, making him a free agent next year. But the money the Redskins are offering is similar to what Peerless Price got from Atlanta after he was acquired from Buffalo last week.

The Redskins have been the busiest team since free agency opened two weeks ago. They added running back Trung Canidate in a deal with St. Louis, and signed guards Thomas, Dave Fiore, Tre Johnson and Lennie Friedman; former Bucs quarterback Rob Johnson; defensive end Regan Upshaw; defensive tackle Brandon Noble, and Hall. They have also signed Green Bay safety Matt Bowen to an offer sheet.

BENGALS: New coach Marvin Lewis' promise of a fresh start for lowly Cincinnati and an aggressive defense is paying off in the free-agent market. Cornerback Tory James signed a four-year, $14.4-million contract after playing with Oakland in the Super Bowl last season. He said Lewis and new defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier were the attraction because they plan a blitzing defense that will demand cornerbacks who can play man-to-man coverage. Since March 2, the Bengals have signed former Washington defensive tackle Carl Powell, linebacker Kevin Hardy and defensive tackle John Thornton.

BILLS: The Bengals declined to match Buffalo's contract offer to standout linebacker Takeo Spikes, allowing him to move to the Bills as a free agent. A first-round draft pick in 1998, Spikes has consistently been a leading tackler for the Bengals, but after the team's 2-14 finish last season, he said he hoped to move to a new team.

COWBOYS: Free-agent tight end Dan Campbell, who played four years with the Giants, signed a three-year contract. Terms were not disclosed.

PANTHERS: Defensive tackle Sean Gilbert, a 10-year veteran who started 56 games in five seasons with Carolina, was released. Gilbert, 32, broke his right hip during the second half of a 12-9 home loss to Tampa Bay on Oct. 27 and missed the last eight games of the season.