Agent 'optimistic' Carter will return

Gone today, here tomorrow.

That figures to be the unusual career path soon to be followed by defensive lineman Kevin Carter, arguably the most coveted of the six veterans that the Tennessee Titans announced on Monday will be released for salary cap purposes.

Sources within the Titans organization, and from other league franchises as well, told ESPN.com in the wake of the purge that Carter is very likely to re-sign with Tennessee within the next few weeks. Even agent Harold Lewis, who will have no lack of suitors for the 10-year veteran once he is officially jettisoned by the Titans and on the open market, acknowledged he is "optimistic" Carter will be back.

"Everything will work out with Kevin," Lewis said. "He really wants to be back there."

Personnel men from three teams interested in Carter noted on Monday evening and Tuesday morning that it is their understanding Carter will be re-signed. Said one: "The word is he's already off the market and he isn't even on the market yet."

Because the 10-year veteran defender is not yet a free man, other teams interested in him cannot make contact with Carter or his agent, since that would be a violation of the NFL anti-tampering rules. But most franchises employ backchannel methods and third-party contacts to deliver the message they are interested in a player. The message they have gotten back on Carter is that they shouldn't waste their time pursuing him.

By releasing Carter, the Titans will save $3.5 million on his ponderous 2005 salary cap charge of nearly $13.97 million. The team will carry the balance in "dead money" -- cap space absorbed by players not on the roster -- against its 2005 spending limit of about $85 million. But the Titans can re-sign Carter to a more palatable contract, one that better fits into their dramatically altered financial framework, and it appears there is at least some tacit agreement that such a deal is coming.

Carter, 31, is not only a key player on the field for Tennessee but also in the locker room and in the Nashville community. He was cited as the Titans community man of the year for three years in a row. Acquired by Tennessee in a blockbuster 2001 trade with the St. Louis Rams, the former University of Florida star has been a defensive mainstay.

Part of Carter's attractiveness is that he has played at both end and tackle, moving inside after spending much of his career on the edge to help the Titans fill an interior need, and has performed well at both positions. Carter is also durable, and has never missed a game in his 10-year career.

He has 439 career tackles and 86 sacks. Carter has never posted fewer than 5½ sacks in a season, even after moving to tackle, and has four campaigns with double-digit sacks, with a career-best of 17 in 1999. Viewed as a superb two-way defender, he is a rare 300-pound strongside end, a player who can anchor against the run and still collapse the pocket.

"Even after 10 years," said the pro personnel director of a team that would definitely have been interested in Carter, "there's not a lot of slippage. He's still a stud."

It appears, for now at least, that Carter is the lone veteran from among the six the Titans will release who will be re-signed. The others -- wide receiver Derrick Mason, cornerback Samari Rolle, right offensive tackle Fred Miller, tailback Robert Holcombe and kicker Joe Nedney -- likely will find new homes quickly.

Mason, Rolle and Miller, in particular, figure to be among the most sought-after players at their respective positions.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.