- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

The Washington Redskins’ bold move to acquire linebacker Jeremiah Trotter two years ago officially is a bust.

Coach Joe Gibbs yesterday announced that Trotter has been told to seek a trade. Given Trotter’s subpar performance the past two seasons and the hefty remainder of his seven-year, $36million contract, the two-time Pro Bowl pick for the Philadelphia Eagles likely will find few suitors and be released in coming months.

“We just feel like we’re going to go in another direction,” Gibbs said after his first minicamp practice, from which Trotter was excused.

It remains unclear precisely when Trotter’s departure might come. He is scheduled to count $3.862million against the salary cap, a figure that would swell to $5.81million if he were cut before June1 or traded at any point. He would count just $1.162million if Washington waited until after June1 to release him.

On one hand, the Redskins clearly are willing to absorb the pre-June1 hit because they’re open to a trade. On the other, the club’s cap space is dwindling, and a post-June1 cut could help Washington avoid restructuring contracts.

Regardless, the decision to part with Trotter has far more to do with his play than any cap considerations.

“It was a decision based on everything,” Gibbs said.

Trotter never approached his Pro Bowl level despite 104 tackles in 12 games in 2002 and a club-high 129 tackles last season. Although knee difficulties played a part — he missed the final four games of 2002 with a blown ACL — so did a failure to stick to his assignment. Last season a blown play at Carolina cost Washington a win.

It also remains unclear who the Redskins’ new middle linebacker will be. Gibbs’ comments indicated that veteran Kevin Mitchell, who was slated to start in 2002 before Trotter was signed, has the inside track. Mitchell worked as the first-team middle linebacker in practice yesterday.

But Washington also could go with a young player like Clifton Smith, who is nursing a shoulder injury, or sign a free agent like former New York Giant Michael Barrow. Also, Gibbs sounded open to sliding newly signed Marcus Washington to the middle, which might lead to signing an outside linebacker like former Chicago Bear Warrick Holdman. Washington is sitting out this minicamp after recently having a cyst on his tailbone removed.

LaVar Arrington, according to Gibbs, is not a candidate to move inside.

News of Trotter’s impending departure came days after free agents Greg Favors and Brandon Short signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers, respectively. The Redskins had both players in for visits but didn’t pursue either very hard.

B. Johnson stays

The Redskins pulled a mild surprise and matched the New Orleans Saints’ four-year, $4.3 million offer sheet for fullback Bryan Johnson, a restricted free agent.

Washington had said it would match any offer for its four restricted free agents, but the Saints constructed a pact with a particularly unwieldy first-year cap figure of $2.2 million. Johnson had counted $628,000 while on a one-year tender offer.

The decision apparently came with much consideration. At Gibbs’ afternoon news conference a few hours before the deadline, the coach claimed the team still hadn’t decided which way it would go.

Johnson, 26, is a leading candidate to start at H-back in Gibbs’ offense and should remain a valuable contributor to Washington’s special teams.

Extra points

Safety Ifeanyi Ohalete is balking at giving his No. 26 jersey to running back Clinton Portis, who went to the Pro Bowl for the Denver Broncos while wearing No. 26. Portis wore No. 3 at practice, but the NFL won’t permit him to keep it into the season.

“He won’t even talk to me about it,” Portis said. “I hope you all convince him and say Portis don’t look good in No. 3. Give him 26.” …

Defensive tackle Brandon Noble was able to perform some agility drills, an indicator of how he is progressing from last preseason’s devastating knee injury. Wide receiver Laveranues Coles participated in individual drills despite his toe injury. Cornerback Shawn Springs is sitting out this minicamp with a bone bruise in his lower leg. …

Defensive tackle Joe Salave’a and wide receiver Reggie Swayne were signed. Wide receiver Gari Scott, defensive back Michael Hall, linebacker Khary Campbell, linebacker Devin Lemons, defensive lineman Robert Newkirk and defensive lineman Bernard Whittington all participated without contracts.

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