Since then he's had back-to-back seasons cut short because of injuries. His big contract makes sense only if he's producing big numbers.
But Portis wants to keep going. He practically lobbied the Redskins Thursday -- two days after his most recent surgery -- to keep him in their plans for 2011.
"I feel like I can't leave on this note," he said.
His season over, with appearances in just five games and a career-low total of 227 yards rushing, Portis this week had an operation to repair muscle tears in his left groin and his lower abdomen. The groin injury caused him to miss five games, then he lasted only five carries when he returned before tearing the abdominal muscle two weeks ago against Tennessee.
"They fixed it all," Portis said. "They did the ab. They did the groin. They repaired me, so it was a minor tuneup. I went and got tuned up and I feel like everything should be fine."
Portis' future is very much an open question in Washington. The Redskins, who opened the season with the oldest roster in the NFL, need to get younger and healthier. Portis was a dynamic running back in his day, but he missed the final eight games of 2009 with a severe concussion and this year will again spend the last part of the season on injured reserve.
"I'm hoping that he can come back here," coach Mike Shanahan said. "Hopefully he can be a lot healthier than he's been over the last couple of years. .... There's a bunch of factors. Has age caught up with him? Have the injuries caught up with him? Only time with tell."
Ironically, teammates said Portis had rededicated himself this year, having regained his enthusiasm with Shanahan's arrival. It was when Portis was still healthy that he lost a bit of his fire, when the team was struggling under coach Jim Zorn and not long after the death of friend and teammate Sean Taylor.
"Of course, I want to come back and play," Portis said. "I think the previous two seasons, just losing the lust for the game, and not really knowing what I wanted to do -- compared to finally putting the work in this offseason and getting back and having the system that you believe in and getting the right teammates around and seeing the right guys fight for the right purpose. All of a sudden you miss it again."
Portis noted that the injuries have combined to save him from a year's worth of pounding, and that he's used the time off to bond with his children. Coming back would give him a chance to prove his doubters wrong one more time.
Whether the Redskins will want him back is another matter. He has three years left on his contract, but his salary is set to increase to $8.25 million in 2011 and would almost certainly have to be negotiated.
That said, the Redskins don't have a clear successor on the roster. Ryan Torain looks good but also can't stay healthy: He's missed three straight weeks with a hamstring injury.
"I'm about ready to strangle Ryan right now," Shanahan said, "because he hasn't come back quite quick enough."
Portis' rehabilitation is expected to take three to six weeks. That means he should recover in plenty of time to prove his health before Shanahan has to make the major offseason roster decisions. Portis is also close to two notable milestones: 77 yards short of 10,000 for his career and 648 yards shy of the Redskins' franchise record held by John Riggins.
"I think this team has got a good thing going," Portis said. "I think the coaching staff and the organization are heading in the right direction, and it's going to happen soon. I think once you get a couple of pieces in place that it's going to be the Redskins' year, so why not be a part of that?"
LT Trent Williams missed practice after injuring his shoulder at home. Shanahan said he thinks Williams will be fine for Sunday's game against the New York Giants. ... Shanahan said S LaRon Landry (Achilles' tendon) is "highly, highly unlikely" to play. CB Carlos Rogers (hamstring) also did not practice, while Torain was limited. ... DT Ma'ake Kemoeatu was selected as this year's winner of the Redskins' Ed Block Courage Award, given annually to a player who displays courage in the face of adversity. Kemoeatu returned to the NFL after tearing his Achilles' tendon during training camp last year with Carolina. ... Shanahan said he has his "fingers crossed" hoping that tight ends coach Jon Embree lands the head coaching position with the University of Colorado. Shanahan said he has assured the university that Embree wouldn't have to finish out the Redskins season if given the job.