With the pool of unrestricted wide receivers drained of much of its talent only one week into the signing period, the most coveted player available at the position might not be the enigmatic Plaxico Burress of Pittsburgh, but rather a player who isn't even a free agent.
Indeed, as Burress struggles to drum up interest leaguewide, Redskins four-year veteran Rod Gardner, who Washington will trade, maybe by the end of the week, has experienced no problem in locating viable suitors. The active wide receiver market, which has moved at warp speed in the opening week of free agency, has certainly stoked the trade flames for Gardner, and at least three teams are interested in acquiring him.
All three of those teams -- Minnesota, Cleveland and Seattle -- have spoken to agent Joel Segal about his client. Segal was granted written permission by Redskins officials three weeks ago to speak directly to other teams about possible trade scenarios.
"Let's just say," acknowledged Segal early Tuesday, "that things are heating up."
Despite the pending swap of Laveranues Coles to the New York Jets, which will become official when the wide receiver passes a Wednesday physical examination, Washington is intent on trading away its No. 2 wideout as well. And franchises interested in Gardner seem willing to match the asking price, a middle-round draft choice, if they can agree to a contract extension with the former first-rounder.
Gardner, 27, has one season remaining, at a base salary of $2.097 million, on the original five-year contract he signed with Washington in 2001.
The former Clemson star, the 15th player chosen overall in the '01 draft, has never missed a game and started all but two of his 64 career appearances. Gardner has 227 receptions for 2,997 yards and 22 touchdowns. In four seasons, his average numbers -- 56.8 catches, 749.3 yards and 5.5 touchdowns -- certainly are comparable to those of Burress.
Over five years, Burress has averaged 52.2 catches, 833.2 yards and four touchdowns.
Burress is arguably regarded as a more explosive playmaker but some teams feel Gardner is a steadier player, even with some stretches of inconsistency in 2004, who will seek a far more palatable contract.
Gardner's best year came in 2002, when he registered 71 receptions for 1,006 yards and eight touchdowns. In the two seasons since, he has only 110 catches and 10 touchdowns. But he is seen more as a complementary wideout, while Burress seems to want to escape the shadow of former Steelers teammate Hines Ward, and become a "lead" receiver.
But where Burress will get the opportunity to assume that role remains unresolved. He missed a Monday visit with New York Giants officials because of the flu and is now said to be scheduled for a Wednesday meeting. But the Giants have suggested contract figures -- six years for $21 million, with a signing bonus of $4 million -- that might not satisfy his desires. Minnesota officials, while in pursuit of Gardner, remain interested in Burress, but only if his financial expectations are lowered.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.