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Trotter study in free agency

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Jacksonville fans are familiar with the Hugh Douglas saga; you know, he wanted to go back to Philadelphia where they play real football. Well, Douglas has been dramatically upstaged this season by teammate Jeremiah Trotter, who returned to Philly after two unproductive seasons in Washington and is now playing the best brand of football by any linebacker since Ray Lewis stormed through the 2000 playoffs.

Maybe there really is something about playing where your heart is. Maybe professional football isn't all about the money. Maybe, just maybe, some of these guys have to have a special relationship with the city they represent for them to be at their best. Yeah, well, read on.

Trotter, ladies and gentlemen, was a huge free-agent bust for the Redskins. Daniel Snyder paid the guy big bucks in assembling an all-star defensive cast for Steve Spurrier. The Redskins bought Trotter and Jesse Armstead and Bruce Smith and they plugged them in with LaVar Arrington. How could they lose, right?

Oh, they lost, all right. They didn't stop anybody, and Trotter was considered a big reason for the Redskins' failures.

Last spring, you'll remember, it was well-reported in advance that Trotter would be a June cut casualty. Who wants him? Well, the Eagles decided they'd take him back and, boy, are they glad they did.

In two postseason games, Trotter leads the Eagles with 15 tackles, and they are not of the push and shove variety. Thirteen of those tackles are solo jobs, and almost all of them are thumpers. Add a half a sack and one whole interception and its 35-yard return and what you have is the most dominant defensive performance by any player in the postseason. Trotter is "killing" people, and let's not forget that the opposition has been Daunte Culpepper and Michael Vick.

Yeah, Trotter is back in Philly and he's thumping people like he did when the Redskins signed him. So why did he stop? Did the money make him soft? And why, all of a sudden, has he been transformed back into the player he was three years ago? Is there really something about playing in Philly?

Trotter will be asked those questions often next week. He will be one of the most requested interviews because, very simply, he's the guy who holds the key to the Eagles stopping Tom Brady and a Patriots offense that scored 27 and 41 points in its two postseason wins.

Here are the facts:

• In Washington, Trotter got a $7 million signing bonus and made $1.5 million in salary in 2003. Wow! What a bust. His performance was listless. He lacked the energy that had been his trademark with the Eagles.

• Now, back in Philadelphia, Trotter is playing on a one-year contract that includes no signing bonus and no incentives. Trotter was paid the minimum wage, $535,000, this season. That's all; minimum wage and nothing else. He's playing, however, as though his hair is on fire.

So what is it? Is he playing hard because he's back in Philly? Or is he playing hard because he'll be a free agent and that means he can sting another team for a big contract?

Do you want to be the team that finds out?

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