In a shocking move, the Philadelphia Eagles today released one of their signature players: middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. Trotter is a four-time Pro Bowler who is, for the most part, 30 years old; the problem is that his knees have the mileage of a guy fifteen or twenty years older. That accelerated decrepitude is why the Eagles concluded he could no longer stop the run well enough to make up for being a major liability in passing situations.
Football is a brutal game in more ways than the action on the field, and nothing is rougher than cutting a veteran and team leader. But this parting was handled with probably as much class as possible by both sides. The Eagles made the move early enough to ensure that Trotter, who doesn't want to retire, can try and catch on elsewhere, and Trotter himself came out to practice today for a press conference and in-person farewell to his teammates.
Trotter addressed the team, telling his former teammates to savor each opportunity on the field, each moment with the team, then essentially passed the middle linebacker torch to the young Omar Gaither and hugged each of his former teammates. There was Brian Dawkins, who had seen every minute of Trotter's career here. There was Spikes, who had joined the Eagles in March and been outspoken about his desire to play with Trotter. And there were coaches.
When the linebackers huddled, as they usually do after practice, Trotter was in the middle. He broke the huddle for the last time, walked to the auditorium with Dawkins and Spikes at his side, then fought back tears as he talked about the green blood coursing through his veins.
When Reid summoned Trotter to his office after Monday's practice, Trotter had no idea what was about to happen. He said he was stunned by the news, but sounded neither bitter nor remorseful.
"It was pretty emotional," Trotter said of his meeting with Reid. "At the end, we were like two old ladies up there. Obviously, I know he didn't want to make the decision. But as a head coach, you have to make tough decisions for the organization, and I respected it. I just told him I really appreciated everything he did for me, the organization, and the city.
"It's a tough pill to swallow, but everyone gets to this point in their career at some point or another, and now is my time. I'm just thankful that I spent this many years here in Philadelphia. I truly believe that if you were to cut me, I'd bleed green. Even when I went away for two years [to Washington], I was always an Eagle at heart, and I'll always remain an Eagle."
The Eagles have had a lot of these over the past few years, cutting loose beloved vets like defensive end Hugh Douglas, running back Duce Staley and cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor. Every time, fans have howled; thus far, every time, the move has been borne out by the results. In the salary-cap era, the surest way for an NFL team to fade from contender to also-ran is to do what baseball teams routinely do: overpay for past performance. If the Eagles--who have been down this road before with Trotter, having essentially cut him after a contract dispute before the 2002 season before bringing him back as a reserve two years later--think he's done, he's probably done. Unlike the Phillies, they've earned the benefit of the doubt.
But it's still sad. Trotter and safety Brian Dawkins are the last two players left from the wreckage of the pre-Andy Reid era, and they blossomed into stars (in Dawkins's case, a probable Hall of Famer) as the team returned to prominence. In Trotter's case, a kid from rural Texas--growing up in fairly close proximity to the detested Cowboys--made himself a Philadelphia legend with his signature "Axe Man" celebration and endless intensity and energy. He'll be missed, to say the least.