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Patriots beat Redskins — 6 months early

It pays to know the rules, but it was worth more to the Patriots that the Redskins didn't.

The teams were involved in what appeared to be two trades last week, but it was really only one trade and a Brink's job, with Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli pulling off a grand heist that could prove valuable next month.

Early last week, the Redskins decided to sign kick returner Chad Morton, a restricted free agent, but they needed to have proper compensation ready if the Jets elected not to match Washington's offer. Because Morton had been given the low tender offer by the Jets, it meant the Redskins had to have a fifth-round draft choice, because that was the round Morton was drafted in (by New Orleans in 2000).

The problem was, Washington had already unloaded its fifth-round pick, so it had to acquire one that was equal to or better than the original pick, which was ninth in the round. The Redskins looked for teams with multiple picks in the fifth round, and settled on New England, because it not only had two such picks but also would be more than happy to help someone outside its division hurt the Jets.

Morton was the second-leading kick returner in the NFL last year and is a force to be reckoned with — but not by New England if he's playing for Washington. So the Patriots agreed to swap their fifth-round choice for a seventh rounder this year and the Redskins' fourth-round pick next season. What Washington didn't realize was that the Patriots' fifth-round pick was below Morton's original slot and thus could not be used as compensation for the Jets.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder again proved he's not as smart as he thinks he is. The deal was trumpeted by the team on its Web site in an attempt to scoop the Washington media Snyder so detests, but not long after that announcement, the league informed Snyder that his team still didn't have the required compensation, so the five-year, $8 million offer sheet was not acceptable. Washington called back to "remind" the Patriots the deal had been for the fifth-round pick New England got from Dallas — which was higher than the ninth pick in that round. Thinking quickly, the Patriots said in effect, "I'm afraid not."

Pioli and Belichick said they had agreed to trade their own pick and that no one ever discussed unloading the higher selection. In the end, Washington agreed to swap places with the Patriots in the third round, allowing the Patriots to move up six places, plus hand over its fourth-round selection next year in exchange for that fifth-round pick that came from Dallas. The seventh-round choice was long forgotten.

Now the Jets have until Thursday to decide whether they will match the offer, and team officials did not believe the cost would be prohibitive.

If the Jets do retain Morton, Washington would end up moving down six slots in the third round and giving up a fourth-round choice next year for a fifth-round choice of questionable value.

"The Redskins didn't know the rules or they didn't know where the Patriots were drafting in the round," one NFL general manager said. "That's obvious. It's pretty funny — when it doesn't happen to you."

WASHINGTON SPENDING — The Redskins have added nine players since free agency began barely a week ago. Eight came as free agents, and Washington traded for Rams running back Trung Canidate . . . Donald Yee, agent for Tom Brady, denied Internet reports that he was going to step in temporarily for beleaguered agent David Dunn if Dunn's two-year suspension imposed by the NFL Players Association sticks. "I don't know where that started," Yee said. "Why would I rent someone else's players? David has never even talked to me about that and I have no intention of doing it." Somebody soon may have to. Dunn, who lost an explosive lawsuit to rival agent and former boss Leigh Steinberg, is on the brink of bankruptcy after being ordered to pay Steinberg a $44.6 million judgment plus an additional $2.7 million in attorneys' fees. Steinberg also asked a California court to put Dunn's company, Athletes First, out of business for stealing more than 50 of Steinberg's high-profile clients, including Drew Bledsoe and Jamir Miller.

BEHIND ENEMY LINES — The line of the recent scouting combine goes to Maurice Carthon, Dallas's new offensive coordinator. The former Giants fullback turned to his boss, former Giants coach Bill Parcells, one day during the workouts and said, "Can you believe we're coaching the (expletive) Cowboys?" . . . Speaking of Parcells, the chill that he can bring over a team that is fat, happy, and underachieving is already in evidence in Dallas. Parcells has ordered that the heat be turned down in the trainer's room at the sprawling practice facility so it's a less comfortable place to hang around. In addition Parcells has outlawed the playing of dominoes in the locker room and talking on the phone in the equipment room . . . Saints owner Tom Benson is 76 and planning his eventual exit from the day-to-day ownership pressures in the NFL. Although he is not leaving soon, he has already named his likely successor and it is his granddaughter, Rita LeBlanc.

QB SCRAMBLING — The quarterback pool is rapidly shrinking on the Bears. They made Plummer an offer comparable to the one he accepted from the Broncos, and Plummer turned them down. Now they're looking at Kordell Stewart and if that fails, they could be forced to trade for the man Plummer is replacing in Denver, Brian Griese. A year ago they could have had Bledsoe but decided he wasn't what they were looking for. You figure that out . . . The Eagles had to make a hard choice with All-Pro defensive end Hugh Douglas. When the sides couldn't agree on his value, coach Andy Reid and capologist Joe Banner decided to let the market decide. Now Douglas is a free agent but has yet to receive an offer. As the money begins to dry up and the draft approaches, his options will lessen, so Douglas needs to strike quickly. The Eagles would love to have him back are reluctant to pay him a big bonus despite his 12 sacks last season because he faded so badly in the final few games.

SPIKING THE DEFENSE — The Bills continue to beef up. The unloading of wide receiver Peerless Price to the Falcons Friday for a No. 1 draft choice replaced the one they lost in last year's deal for Bledsoe, and they followed almost immediately by using the $5 million they saved by not having to pay Price as a franchise player to sign the highest-rated linebacker available, Cincinnati's Takeo Spikes, to a six-year offer sheet worth $32 million. The Bengals have seven days to match Buffalo's offer but made moves that indicated they would not, as they signed linebacker Kevin Hardy and defensive tackle John Thornton. If it chooses not to match Spikes's offer, Cincinnati will get the No. 1 choice Buffalo got from Atlanta, but the Bills feel that no one they'd be drafting would be superior to Spikes. Spikes has publicly made clear he does not want to return to Cincinnati, and he called coach Marvin Lewis Friday night and asked him not to match the deal.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers and league and team sources was used in this report.