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Jets QB glad for Coles, sad for likely loss

Chad Pennington is delighted to see Laveranues Coles hit the NFL's free-agent lottery with the Redskins. But the Jets quarterback admitted Wednesday night that life after Laveranues won't be easy.

"I'm ecstatic for Laveranues as a player and as an individual, because I know how hard he's worked the last three years, and I know the adversity he's faced coming out of college having to prove himself," Pennington said in his first remarks since Coles signed a seven-year, $35-million offer sheet with the Redskins.

"But it's one of those situations where we'll just have to raise our performance and do everything possible to make up for the plays that he made for us and that he won't make if he's not here."

The Jets are wasting no time making preparations for the departure of the former Florida State receiver. The team will host Seahawks restricted free-agent receiver Darrell Jackson today and Friday, and a contract offer could be forthcoming shortly.

Regardless of who lines up at receiver next season, Pennington said it will be a challenge to make up for Coles' absence.

"As a quarterback, I'll have to elevate my play, and the receiving corps will have to elevate its play," Pennington said. "That's not a mystery. We understand what type of player Laveranues is. He made a lot of plays for us, and we'll definitely miss that.

"Obviously, the nature of this league with free agency creates a double-edged sword. It's an excellent tool for individuals to receive nice contracts, but as a player, you build relationships, and sometimes free agency takes those things away from you."

Because Coles is a restricted free agent, the Jets have a week to match the offer. If they don't, they will receive Washington's first-round pick in this year's NFL draft.

Coles, who had 89 catches for 1,264 yards and five touchdowns last season, is the fourth member of the Jets pursued by the Redskins. They signed guard Randy Thomas and kicker John Hall and have tendered an offer to punt returner Chad Morton.

BEARS: Chicago prevented placekicker Paul Edinger from defecting to division rival Minnesota, matching a $7-million, five-year offer sheet from the Vikings.

CARDINALS: In addition to signing Bucs free safety Dexter Jackson, the Super Bowl MVP, Arizona agreed to terms with veteran free-agent quarterback Jeff Blake and signed linebacker James Darling and fullback James Hodgins to four-year contracts.

Blake, who played for Baltimore last season, will replace Jake Plummer, who left for Denver as a free agent. Blake also has played for the Jets, Cincinnati Bengals and Saints in an 11-year career. He was signed over former Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart.

GIANTS: New York signed cornerback Ray Green and waived safety DeWayne Patmon. Green spent the past two seasons as a Dolphins reserve.

JAGUARS: The Associated Press reported Jacksonville is finalizing negotiations to sign Colts free-agent linebacker Mike Peterson to a six-year contract averaging about $3-million a year. Tom Condon, agent for the former Gator, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

JETS: Guard Tom Nutten was signed as a replacement for Randy Thomas, who joined the Redskins. Nutten, a six-year NFL veteran, spent the past four years with the Rams.

PANTHERS: Free-agent offensive lineman Doug Brzezinski signed a three-year deal. The 6-foot-4, 305-pound guard did not miss a game in his four-year career with the Eagles.

PATRIOTS: New England signed Pro Bowl safety Rodney Harrison, its second significant move to bolster their defense in less than 24 hours. Earlier the Patriots signed linebacker Rosevelt Colvin. Harrison was hampered by a groin injury last season with the Chargers, who released him in a salary cap move.

RAIDERS: Defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield, released by the 49ers last month in a salary cap move, moved to Oakland. Terms of his contract were not disclosed. Raiders coach Bill Callahan said he prized Stubblefield's leadership. The 10-year veteran was NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1993 and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1997.

SEAHAWKS: Less than a week after losing veteran Jeff Feagles to free agency, Seattle signed former Giants punter Rodney Williams to a multiyear contract.

New minority hiring group to meet

The group formed to try to ensure that minorities receive fair consideration for all NFL job openings will meet formally for the first time Friday in Washington at a function to honor Bobby Mitchell, the former assistant general manager of the Redskins and the NFL's first black executive. In 1963, Mitchell became Washington's first black player, fully integrating the NFL's 12 teams.

The group will be led by Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow and former Cleveland Browns guard John Wooten, and will be named the Fritz Pollard Alliance after the first black coach in the NFL.

It will recommend candidates for vacancies and also run mentoring programs by older black coaches and executives.

"This is a turning point for equal opportunity in the league," said Cyrus Mehri, whose study of the league's minority hiring practices, released last September, spurred a move to add more blacks to the upper levels of NFL teams.

"For the first time, African-American front-office and coaching personnel are standing shoulder to shoulder to level the playing field."

OUSTED OFFICIALS: Eight officials asked by the NFL to resign by March 20 or face dismissal have been named in a New York Times article. The newspaper said other officials identified them as James Duke, Dave Warden, Tom Johnson, Dave Anderson, Lloyd McPeters, Bill Spyksma, Ron Spitler and Tommy Moore.

In the NFL's record and fact book, they range in experience from 21 years (Johnson and Spitler) to five years (Warden). None officiated a playoff game last season, an indication they were ranked at the lower end of the range. Each filed a grievance against the league, according to the other officials, who spoke to the paper on the condition of anonymity.