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One-Year Deal No Guarantee That James Returns To Indy...
As Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot framed it: "The Indianapolis Colts' career rushing leader is staying put -- for now. ..."

Former two-time NFL rushing champion Edgerrin James signed a one-year franchise offer Wednesday that will pay him a little more than $8 million this year.

But that won't slow James' efforts to get a long-term deal or seek a trade.

In fact, Indianapolis Star News beat man Mike Chappell characterized the move as a "a formality and an insurance policy, and nothing resembling a resolution for the team's star running back."

James' agent agreed with that assessment.

"The bottom line is nothing has changed," Drew Rosenhaus said. "We think by making the move, it will help facilitate either a long-term deal or enhance our chances of working out a trade.

"We've always stated we are not interested in playing out a one-year deal."

Had James not signed the tender, the team could have withdrawn it at any time. That would have made James an unrestricted free agent but exposed him to what has been a less-than-attractive market for high-priced running backs.

The move comes one week after team president Bill Polian told Rosenhaus that the Colts could not afford to sign James to a long-term contract.

Rosenhaus has been trying to work out a trade ever since, a deal Polian told Rosenhaus would not require a first-round draft pick in exchange for the three-time Pro Bowler.

"We are going to try and work something out, preferably with the Colts and if not, with another team," Rosenhaus said. "It does not preclude the Colts from trading him and working out a long-term deal with another team."

However, the Colts are now prohibited from reaching a long-term agreement with James before mid-July. Doing so would cost them their franchise tag for the length of the contract.

The deal means Indianapolis could keep its triplets -- James, quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receiver Marvin Harrison -- intact for a seventh straight year. Together, they have led Indianapolis to three division titles and five playoff appearances in six years. Indeed, the only year the Colts missed the playoffs was 2001, when James missed the last 10 games.

But as Chappell pointed out, the deal also means James is obligated to attend all mandatory offseason team functions. Those include mini-camp and training camp. He will be subject to a fine if he boycotts any mandatory event.

Marot reminded readers that if James is traded, Indianapolis could move to Plan B.

In February, backup Dominic Rhodes signed a two-year deal that will pay him $1.3 million in base salary in 2005 and 2006. Rhodes rushed for 1,104 yards -- an NFL record for undrafted rookies -- when he replaced James in 2001, but since then only has seen spot duty because of shoulder and knee injuries.

Rhodes' agent has said that he is looking for a starting job next season, and that could still come in Indianapolis.

As the Sporting News suggested this week, Rhodes doesn't possess James' all-around talents, especially as a receiver or pass blocker. But he has been an effective runner when called upon. Rhodes is powerful, has a burst and can make tacklers miss.

The only concern is his health. He missed the 2002 season with a knee injury and occasionally has been bothered by a shoulder injury.

TSN went on to advise readers not to rule out the team using one of its first-day draft picks on a running back to be James' eventual successor -- especially if James is dealt.

Under that scenario, Rhodes could open the season as the starter while the rookie learned the ropes. It would be similar to how St. Louis handled its running game in 2004 with Marshall Faulk eventually yielding significant playing time to first-round draft pick Steven Jackson.

And finally. ... insider Len Pasquarelli offered readers the following observation last Friday: "Here's the bottom line for both the Colts and for James: If Indianapolis feels it can just plug any tailback into its offense, and that the high-octane passing game will make that runner instantly successful, it is probably wrong.

"And if James thinks he can simply change uniforms and post the same numbers he did in Indianapolis with a new team, well, he's mistaken as well."

Pasquarelli went on to suggest part of James' success is due to the fact offensive coordinator Tom Moore uses him wisely. Despite averaging 335.4 carries in the five seasons in which he was healthy, he was never considered -- or used as -- the team's primary offensive weapon or sole threat.

That's unlikely to be the case with another team -- especially those currently in need of help at the position.