The odds that injured running back Priest Holmes will return to the field in 2006 -- if ever -- remain long. But Kansas City Chiefs officials still plan to wait as long as possible to make a determination on his short-term future.
The Chiefs on Tuesday informed the league that they have started the clock on the three-week evaluation window permitted for players who began the season on the NFL's physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Thus, the Chiefs have until Nov. 28 to make a roster move with Holmes, by either elevating him to the active roster or keeping him idle for the rest of the season.
Under league rules, Tuesday was the final day for beginning the evaluation period for players on the PUP list. The Chiefs also began the evaluation period for seventh-year safety William Bartee, who has also been on the PUP list.
But the difference between Holmes and other PUP players league-wide is that the Chiefs will likely need to make a decision on their former Pro Bowl back without seeing him practice. Holmes has not been with the team since training camp, hasn't practiced since before the head and neck injury that sidelined him more than a year ago, and has been working out on his own in San Antonio, his home town.
The consensus is that the Chiefs are merely delaying the inevitable and will be forced to officially end Holmes' 2006 comeback hopes in three weeks.
"I mentioned at the beginning of the season that we were going to keep this window open as long as possible," Chiefs president Carl Peterson said. "If we can keep this window open through 12 weeks [of the season], we're benefited by that."
Still, Holmes has yet to be cleared to return to practice by any of the specialists with whom he has visited, and there are no indications he will be back on the field during the three-week evaluation period. He visited with a South Florida neurosurgeon late last week and Peterson said the Chiefs are still awaiting the results of that examination.
Holmes, 33, has spent the season in San Antonio, away from the team, so that he would not be a distraction. There have been conflicting reports over the first two months of the season about the state of his conditioning and his workout regiment. He has not played since suffering severe neck and head trauma in a head-to-head collision with San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman last Oct. 30.
Peterson said that Holmes is "making progress" in his recovery and it's clear that, out of respect, the Chiefs are going to give him every opportunity to prove he is healthy before officially closing the door on his return this year.
Holmes has appeared in only 15 games over the last two seasons, first because of a career-threatening hip injury in 2004 and then last year's head-and-neck trauma. And it appears he is prepared to abide by the various specialists' verdict on his football future. For the most part, he has been treated by Dr. Robert Watkins, a renowned Los Angeles-based specialist. Watkins has cautioned Holmes about the potential long-term ramifications of another back or neck injury.
In his first three seasons in Kansas City (2001-03), after signing as an unrestricted free agent, Holmes averaged 1,530 yards and 18.7 rushing touchdowns. In the past two seasons, though the nine-year veteran totaled 1,343 yards and 20 touchdowns. In 2005, he ran for only 451 yards, his lowest output since his 1997 rookie season in Baltimore.
One of the game's top all-around running backs, Holmes has carried 1,734 times for 8,035 yards and 86 touchdowns in 109 games. He also has 334 receptions for 2,945 yards and eight touchdowns.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.