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NY DAILY NEWS :Jets, Skins both pay heavy price


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Jets, Skins both pay heavy price


The Redskins went after the Jets in the offseason like they were picking apart the Super Bowl champs.

The Jets were hardly the Packers of the '60s, the Steelers of the '70s, the 49ers of the '80s, the Cowboys of the '90s or even the Bucs of last year. They barely made the playoffs and got blown out in the second round.

But they were better than the Redskins, who were 7-9 in Steve Spurrier's rookie season. And Thursday night's season opener, thanks to Daniel Snyder's checkbook, has transformed an interconference game that otherwise had no real juice into an intense grudge match.

After finishing their free-agent evaluations and setting up their priorities, the Redskins targeted their money on the Jets. Snyder went on a major shopping adventure, signing four big names. They all represent a significant upgrade for the Redskins, although they have no Pro Bowls between them.

Once again, Snyder has tried to buy his way into the playoffs. It didn't work three years ago.

"The Jets guys were at the top of our rankings," Vinny Cerrato, the Skins VP of football operations, said yesterday. "Randy Thomas was the No.1 guard, John Hall was the No.1 kicker, Chad Morton the No.1 returner and Laveranues Coles was the No.1 receiver out there. It wasn't that it was the Jets. It was just those were the players at the top of our rankings."

Thomas and Hall were unrestricted free agents. Coles and Morton were restricted, with the Jets having the opportunity to match any offer sheet. "We thought we would get one of two from Chad and Laveranues," Cerrato said. "We didn't think we would get both."

The Jets got cute, matching only part of Morton's offer sheet, and lost him in an arbitration hearing. They miscalculated on Coles and he was gone.

Instead of tendering Coles at $1.75million, which would have required first- and third-round picks as compensation if they elected not to match, the Jets tendered him at $1.3million to save cap room, figuring the No.1 pick as compensation was enough to protect them. It didn't scare off Snyder, holding the 13th overall pick.

"We were surprised it was just a one, so we went forward with it," Cerrato said. "If it was a one and a three, we wouldn't have gone after him. We just felt for the one it was much better. There was not a player we could get with the 13th pick who was better than Coles."

But if the Skins were willing to give Coles the $13million to sign as part of the seven-year, $35million contract, wouldn't they have been willing to give up the extra draft pick, too? "We weren't going to give up two picks," Cerrato insisted.

The Redskins found it easy to justify the signing bonus, just as the Jets were able to justify not matching. Of course, the Jets should have found a way to sign Coles to a new deal before he even became a free agent.

For the Skins to trade up to the second or third spot to get either Charles Rogers or Andre Johnson, the two best receivers in the draft, Cerrato said it would have cost them first-, second- and third-round picks. Between signing and option bonuses, Rogers got $14.4million from the Lions and Johnson $13.51million from the Texans.

"It was a much better deal to sign Laveranues and it was cheaper," Cerrato said. "You know what you are going to get. He caught 89 balls last year. He'll be ready to play day one. That's what we needed."

The Jets wound up packaging the Skins' pick at No.13 and their own at No.22 to move up to No.4 to get DT Dewayne Robertson. His signing bonus? $13million.

It's unusual when a team signs more than one player off another team's roster. Washington got four. Along the way, Snyder and Jets GM Terry Bradway tossed verbal hand grenades at each other. "They just happened to have free agent players we needed," Spurrier said.

The total signing bonuses of the four ex-Jets: $24.1million. The Jets' replacements came at less than 10% of that in signing bonuses. You usually get what you pay for. Of course, Snyder tried to buy the Super Bowl in 2000, spending $17.25million in signing bonuses on golden oldies Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Jeff George and Mark Carrier. It backfired. Washington was an 8-8 flop.

"We were coming off a year when we were a snap away from being in the NFC Championship Game," Cerrato said. "We went for the older guys. We didn't think we were that far away."

Snyder changed his approach this year. Hall is 29, Thomas 27, Morton 26, Coles 25. "We just happened to have some good players they needed," Herm Edwards said. "And they were smart. They paid the money to get them and they got them."

It will take time to determine the long-term winner. Thursday night is just Round 1.

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