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James, Alexander Suddenly Competing For Trading Partners...
As insider Len Pasquarelli, who initially broke the story on Wednesday, framed it: "The Indianapolis Colts may be poised to break up one of the greatest offensive trios in recent NFL history."

In a follow-up article published Thursday morning, Indianapolis Star News beat man Mike Chappell concurred, advising readers, "the likelihood of Edgerrin James returning to the Indianapolis Colts has diminished. ..."

The offshoot of a Wednesday morning conversation between Colts president Bill Polian and Drew Rosenhaus, James' agent, was that the team cannot handle a long-term contract with its career rushing leader and a trade might be in the offing.

His departure would break up the Colts' talented trio he formed with Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. Together, they have led Indianapolis to three division titles and five playoff appearances in six years.

Now it appears that partnership is in jeopardy.

"The team has indicated to me that the best they can offer is the one-year deal," Rosenhaus said Wednesday, referring to the $8.01 million "franchise" tag the team affixed to James last month. "We both agree that a trade is the best option for everyone.

"[Polian] and I both are actively working to find a trade. If it's out there, we'll find it between the two of us."

The possible compensation apparently won't approach the two first-round draft picks the Colts were due if James signed an offer sheet with another team.

"The team has said to me they are prepared to be very reasonable with the trade and, in fact, would not insist upon a first-round pick," Rosenhaus said. "Right now we're at a pretty critical juncture."

Of course, a trade of this nature wouldn't necessarily be out of character for the Colts.

In case you missed it, James joined the Colts as the fourth overall pick in the 1999 draft after the team made room for him in the backfield by trading Marshall Faulk, a three-time Pro Bowl tailback, to the Rams in exchange for second- and fifth-round draft picks.

According to Pasquarelli, Polian explained his openness to something less than a first-round pick for James was based on Rosenhaus' assessment that there is a depressed market in the NFL for running backs and that he was finding it difficult to locate potential trade partners.

And that already depressed market became even more crowded Thursday, when Seattle tossed their franchise halfback, Shaun Alexander, into the competition for trade partners.

According to ESPN's John Clayton, the Seahawks -- like the Colts -- informed Alexander's agents Jim Steiner and Mark Heligman that they would be willing to take less than a first-rounder for their client.

As Seattle Times reporter Jose' Miguel Romero noted this morning, Alexander does not figure to sign the one-year tender of $6.32 million any time soon and could miss all offseason workouts. Heligman and Steiner are still open to working out a long-term contract with the Seahawks. But the sides have not had serious negotiations.

The real problem for both backs, as Clayton suggested, lies in the fact that only three teams are seriously for running backs -- the Miami Dolphins, the Arizona Cardinals and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

For the record, some observers believe the Panthers, who have had injury problems at running back -- Stephen Davis had microfracture surgery on his right knee last season and DeShaun Foster suffered a broken collarbone, could still jump into the mix.

However, team officials in Carolina have yet to profess a real interest.

It's been long speculated that James, a South Florida native, yearns to play for the Dolphins.

But last week James said, "Everybody always ties me to [Miami] because I went to school here and I live here. But my main thing is playing football, making sure I've got a good deal in place and then going from there."

Meanwhile, Palm Beach Post staffer Greg A. Bedard advised readers on Thursday that the Dolphins aren't thought to have much interest in James because he is seeking a hefty signing bonus and new head coach Nick Saban is reluctant to part with draft picks in a trade.

A league source told Bedard that Miami, which canceled the free-agent visit of New York Giants running back Ron Dayne, seems content to address the running back position in the draft. Top running backs Ronnie Brown, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and Cedric Benson likely will be available to the Dolphins with the No. 2 pick.

But given the possibility that James or Alexander could be acquired for something less than a first-round pick, Miami is sure to at least inquire.

Also according to Bedard, the Colts are thought to have interest in Dolphins cornerback Patrick Surtain, whom Miami has on the trading block, but aren't believed to be in a position to meet his contract demands.

As for Tampa Bay, getting a deal done would be difficult for the Bucs, who have almost no room under the $85.5 million salary cap.

None of which seems to bother Rosenhaus, who according to St. Petersburg Times reporter Rick Stroud, raised the scenario of James coming to Tampa Bay with Bucs general manager Bruce Allen at a workout last week in Miami and again during a visit at team headquarters on Monday.

Still, the Cardinals, who discussed a possible deal for Travis Henry with Buffalo last month, seem to be the team most open to -- and in the best position to pull off -- a trade for a high-end halfback.

And with good reason.

With all due respect to Troy Hambrick, once you get past Marcel Shipp, who remains anything but a sure thing as he attempts to come back from a leg fracture that kept him out all of 2004 (he led the team in rushing in 2002 and 2003), the Cardinals do not have a solid proven back on their roster.

It's also worth noting that Arizona has been mentioned prominently in rumors regarding a possible trade that would have sent Anquan Boldin to Minnesota in exchange for Michael Bennett -- a player current Cardinals head coach Dennis Green drafted in the first round of the 2001 draft.

Asked by St. Paul Pioneer Press staffer Charley Walters last week if he'd heard the talk that Green might try to trade for him, Bennett was coy.

"Are you sure they're just rumors?" Bennett asked. "We'll see. ..."

Of course, with the Colts and now the Seahawks ready to lower demands, it's hard to say what Green and the Cardinals, who have the eighth pick overall in April's draft, might do.

In fact, Seattle Post-Intelligencer beat writer Clare Farnsworth advised readers this morning that Green supposedly has set his sights on California's J.J. Arrington, who could be available in the second round.

In other words, nothing seems to be etched in stone just yet. ...

In the end, Arizona could go a long way towards putting fannies in the seats by acquiring either Alexander, who the club passed over in the 2000 draft in order to take Thomas Jones, or James.

However, league guidelines mandate that any team trading for a franchise player have a long-term agreement arranged before any deal is completed. And at this point, it's simply not clear if the notoriously cheap Cardinals officials are ready to buck their history and make the kind of commitment necessary to get a deal done with either James or Alexander.

Stay tuned. ... I'll continue to follow both stories closely and bring you more as developments warrant.