<p>There's a brewing controversy in Philadelphia that could have repercussions throughout the NFL, including in Cleveland. <p>

There's a brewing controversy in Philadelphia that could have repercussions throughout the NFL, including in Cleveland.

Eagles middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter is widely considered one of the elite players that are eligible for unrestricted free agency March 1. If – and it's a big if – Trotter makes it to the open market, the Browns, who need an upgrade at middle linebacker, might be willing to make a run at him.

Eagles coach Andy Reid said Monday that the team wants Trotter back and that he thinks Trotter wants to return to Philadelphia. The problem is that Trotter will command a huge contract, and the Eagles have done a good job of creating salary-cap space in recent years.

Still, there's no word on what management will do. The front office has a history of not handing out big contracts, which indicates they might let Trotter leave town.

The flip side is that Trotter's teammates and Eagles fans want Trotter back. The players sent a message upstairs when they voted Trotter as the team's most valuable defensive player.

It seems that management almost has to make a run to re-sign Trotter in the next month, or, at the very least, place a franchise or transition tag on him to limit his movement when the signing period begins in March.

The Eagles feel that with one more year of maturity, along with a few changes here and there, they'll be playing in next season's Super Bowl. Allowing Trotter to walk not only would put a dent in a good defense, it would sour teammates on the front office.

Reid's non-committal stance concerning the Trotter issue Monday might be a good sign for teams interested in pursuing the player. "It's a two-way street there. Time will tell on that," Reid said.

The bottom line for Browns' fans that might be dreaming of seeing Trotter in brown and orange is to not get your hopes up too high. Teams that have Super Bowl aspirations don't let a talent like Trotter get away.

The deeper the talent pool of free-agent linebackers, the better for teams like the Browns. There isn't a lot of depth at linebacker in the upcoming draft, especially on the inside. There's been talk of Oklahoma's Rocky Calmus as a possibility in second round, but Calmus, who won the Butkus Award, is small (230 pounds).

Regardless of what happens in Philadelphia, it seems certain that there will be someone other than Wali Rainer in the middle of the Browns' defense in 2002. The Browns finished last in the AFC in rushing defense. Butch Davis won't sit still with that dubious distinction.

Another inside middle linebacker to keep a watch on is Pittsburgh's Earl Holmes, who is eligible for free agency. Holmes sat out the AFC Championship Game with a knee injury that isn't considered serious.

The Steelers have a habit of losing key players by not opening up their wallet. Holmes isn't sure what to expect.

"I'm going to sit back and see what is what and do the best thing for my family," Holmes said. "As much love as the Steelers showed me, they got it all back in return."

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