Jets WR Coles to become free agent

February 25, 2009 6:12:51 PM PST
he New York Jets have restructured Laveranues Coles' contract, allowing the veteran wide receiver to become an unrestricted free agent when the signing period begins Friday morning. Coles, 31, was heading into the final year of his contract, but was looking for a long-term deal. Because of the compromise between the sides, the Jets are off the hook for the guaranteed $6 million Coles was due this upcoming season.

"I spoke with him today and expressed my appreciation for his contributions both on and off the field," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. "This move will allow Laveranues to explore his options, and we both agreed to keep the lines of communication open."

The move comes after a series of salary dumps by the Jets, who have also cut tight end Chris Baker, defensive back David Barrett, and linebackers David Bowens and Brad Kassell.

Coles will immediately become one of the top available free agents at wide receiver, joining a group led by T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Teams are allowed to begin signing free agents on Friday at 12:01 a.m. EST.

Coles caught 70 passes for 850 yards and seven touchdowns from Brett Favre last season. He was a third-round pick by New York in 2000 and played two seasons before signing as a free agent with Washington. After two years with the Redskins, Coles was traded back to the Jets before the 2005 season.

"I have had the pleasure of getting to know Laveranues since he entered the league in 2000," Tannenbaum said. "He is a fierce competitor, a great teammate and a good friend who has always given his best to the New York Jets."

Before last season, Coles threatened to sit out during the offseason program because he wanted a long-term deal, but coach Eric Mangini - during a trip to the receiver's home - convinced him to back off his demands after expressing that he was an invaluable part of the team. The Jets then had the final two years of Coles' contract - about $11 million - guaranteed in a good-faith move.

That would've put the Jets on the hook for his salary this season if not for the compromise.

Coles told The Star-Ledger of Newark that he could still end up re-signing with the Jets.

"We didn't leave on bad terms," Coles told the newspaper. "It's not out of the question that I could come back."

A team captain in 2007, Coles also became a fan favorite during his second stint with the Jets while playing through numerous injuries in recent seasons, including at least two concussions. He had his streak of playing in 107 straight games end in November 2007 because of a concussion, and was briefly knocked unconscious when he was leveled by a hit by Miami's Zach Thomas in December 2006. He also suffered a concussion early last season.

Coles, who had a career-high 91 catches in 2006, has 631 career receptions for 8,095 yards and 44 touchdowns. He struggled to click with Favre early last season when the Jets cut his good friend Chad Pennington. A few days later, Pennington was signed by Miami and led the Dolphins to the playoffs while being voted NFL Comeback Player of the Year for the second time in three seasons.

Coles, from Jacksonville, could possibly seek a reunion with Pennington and try to sign with the Dolphins. Also, Bill Parcells, the man who drafted Coles when he was with the Jets as general manager, is currently the Dolphins' executive vice president of football operations.

If Coles doesn't return, it would leave New York extremely thin at receiver, with only Jerricho Cotchery, Brad Smith and Chansi Stuckey having played a significant number of games.

The wide receiver, known as much for his moody behavior with the media as his toughness and grit on the field, ranks fourth in team history - behind Don Maynard (627), Wayne Chrebet (580) and Al Toon (517) - with 459 catches. He's also tied with Raymond Berry for 41st on the NFL's career list with 631 receptions.