Ex-'franchise' player Trotter looking for work

Living proof that the tumble from the NFL penthouse to life in limbo can indeed be a sudden plummet, Jeremiah Trotter has needed only two years to view unemployment through disparate angles of the free agency spectrum.

For a brief time in the spring of 2002, the six-year veteran middle linebacker was tagged with a franchise label. On Wednesday afternoon, Trotter was released by the Washington Redskins and branded a so-called street free agent. There are no more polar statuses in free agency than those two categories.

Despite being just 27 years old, and having played in two Pro Bowl games, the future for Trotter is decidedly undecided.

Trotter was one of three veterans unceremoniously released by the Redskins, joining tailback Trung Canidate and guard Dave Fiore, as the club moved to create some salary cap space. The moves will save Washington just shy of $5 million against the 2004 spending limit.

Having battled knee problems for the past several years and missed 13 games in 2003 because of injuries, Fiore was contemplating retirement even before his release. Canidate, a former first-round choice of the St. Louis Rams and acquired by the Redskins via trade last spring, likely will find a backup job before training camps begin.

Trotter, though, is the most compelling of the trio lopped by the Redskins, and perhaps the most curious as well. With his credentials and age, and the fact most other post-June 1 salary-cap casualties are either too old or too suspect to make a difference, Trotter ought to be among the top targets among the newest additions to the free agent pool.

Instead, according to league sources, he might not have as many options as anticipated.

There could be a solid market for his services, with the New York Giants rumored to be interested in adding him to plug their existing hole at middle linebacker, but any club that considers Trotter will likely conduct a round of due diligence before making a contract proposal. The primary area of concern is probably Trotter's knees, and the second the fall-off in his productivity.

The six-year veteran started all 16 games in 2003, and led the Redskins in tackles (129), but still wasn't the game-altering type of playmaker he had been earlier in his career.

A third-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1998 draft, Trotter earned Pro Bowl invitations in two of his first three seasons as a starter, and was tagged a franchise player in the spring of 2002. But when contract negotiations drew dicey, Eagles officials opted to rescind the franchise marker, making Trotter an unrestricted free agent. The Redskins quickly signed him to a seven-year, $36.5 million contract that included a $7 million signing bonus.

Two years later, the search for a new address may take a bit longer, and the financial expectations certainly will be diminished.

Trotter tore up his right knee three-quarters of the way into the 2002 season, and that marked just the latest knee injury, a problem that began for him in college at Stephen F. Austin. He rehabilitated well enough to make 16 starts in '03, but the Redskins staff felt his play had dropped precipitously below his compensation level.

While teams around the league might question the Redskins' acumen in most personnel matters, and feel their discarding of Trotter was hasty, there are enough questions about Trotter that even interested clubs will proceed with some caution. Assuming that Trotter is physically sound, one of those teams might reel in a bargain, since the high-character linebacker is more concerned about redemption than remuneration at this point.

Leaguewide consensus appears to be that while Trotter is no longer a Pro Bowl defender, neither is he a guy who belongs on the NFL scrap heap. What teams will seek to identify in coming days, it seems, is precisely where he fits in the middle of those levels.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.