James unlikely to get more than franchise offer
The Indianapolis Colts may be poised to break up one of the greatest offensive trios in recent NFL history.
In a Wednesday morning discussion, Indianapolis team president/general manager Bill Polian apprised the agent for Edgerrin James that the Colts might be unable, for a variety of financial reasons, to make a multi-year contract offer to their star tailback. The bottom line, agent Drew Rosenhaus said, was that James would likely play in 2005 under terms of the one-year "franchise" qualifying offer of $8.08 million, or that the Colts will seek to trade one of the NFL's premier backs.
"Basically, they said that with the stadium, their salary cap situation, they could not make us a proposal beyond the qualifying offer," Rosenhaus said. "And Bill made it pretty clear he would entertain trade offers and, in fact, said he would consider trading 'Edge' for less than a first-round draft choice. I told him that I intended to get the word out about where the Colts stood on this and he encouraged me to do so. I would say this is a pretty significant development."
But Polian allowed that, given those conditions, he told Rosenhaus the Colts might have to revisit their position on James. Polian said he will begin to phone teams and make inquiries about interest in the six-year veteran tailback.
Asked if he preferred that James return to the Colts in 2005, Polian said: "I think that the question is, what's it going to take to get him back? I think that's the No. 1 question."
Polian noted that the Colts have a "high regard for Edgerrin, both as a player and person," that owner Jim Irsay possessed a "real fondness" for him, and that the team would like him to be happy. Toward that end, the Colts will continue to work with Rosenhaus and James to create the best situation for the player and for the team, as well.
The possibilities, very definitely, could include a trade.
Such a turn of events might seem contrary to the stance of Irsay, who had reiterated in the past his intention to try to retain James with a long-term contract. In fairness to Irsay, he made the comments, Polian emphasized "in the vacuum of the conclusion of the season."
And Irsay, who reached into his personal holdings to fund signing bonuses for quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receiver Marvin Harrison, also spoke at a time when it appeared the Colts would be getting a new stadium. The team still hopes to be in a new facility by 2008, but the state legislature has yet to approve a funding plan.
Indianapolis, which in the past year signed Manning and Harrison to lucrative long-term deals, two weeks ago designated James as a "franchise" player.
James has hinted broadly that he might prefer to continue his career elsewhere. He has suggested in the past that he might like to play in Miami, since he makes his home in South Florida, but last week acknowledged he would consider other teams as well. League sources have told ESPN.com that the Dolphins, under new coach Nick Saban, are not interested in trading for James.
There seems little doubt, though, that James is attempting to verbally stir the pot in an effort to be relocated.
In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, James likened the Colts to a "dysfunctional" family.
"Man, we're like The Jackson 5," James said. "To everyone on the outside, it looks like we're tight as hell. We're out there, on the playing field, making it all look so effortless, and all the [expletive] running perfectly. Then we go home and it's Jermaine's in this room, Tito's in another and Randy ain't talking to no one. When you get up close, it's all dysfunctional."
James, 26, was the Colts' first-round pick in the 1999 draft, and has rushed for 1,000 yards in four of his six seasons in the league, and 1,500-plus yards three times. That includes 1,548 yards in 2004.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.