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James Questions Future In Indy; No Questions For Wayne...
In an article published Friday, Indianapolis Star beat man Mike Chappell advised readers that Edgerrin James has resigned himself to the possibility his playing days with the Indianapolis Colts are over.

"I don't see nothing happening," James told Chappell Thursday night after a taping session in Detroit with the NFL Network. "You can read between the lines and from the things I'm hearing, nothing's going to happen.

"And that's crazy, man. I'm part of the solution; I'm not part of the problem. Crazy, man."

The Colts retained James for the 2005 season by naming him their "franchise" player. He played his seventh season under a one-year, $9.1 million contract.

According to Chappell, the team had no comment Thursday night on James' statements.

However, team president Bill Polian has made it clear in recent interviews the Colts' offseason priorities included retaining receiver Reggie Wayne, who like James will become an unrestricted free agent in early March, and extending the contract of three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney.

In fact, three days after Washington's front office announced it had no interest in pursuing Eagles receiver Terrell Owens, the Colts made clear again Friday that Wayne won't be available to the Redskins in their search to complement Santana Moss.

According to Washington Post staff writer Howard Bryant, Polian reiterated his stance that Indianapolis will prevent Wayne, 27, from becoming a free agent, either by negotiating a new contract or designating him the team's "franchise player," which would give the club exclusive negotiating rights.

Wayne is due to be an unrestricted free agent and would certainly be considered one of the most coveted wide receivers on the market -- if he ever made it that far.

"I can say one thing about Reggie Wayne, and it's he won't be a Redskin," Polian said. "We'll either sign him to a long-term deal or we'll franchise him, but he's not going anywhere."

Wayne has teamed with Marvin Harrison for the past four years to form perhaps the league's premier receiving tandem. Wayne caught 83 passes for 1,055 yards and five touchdowns last season. In 2004, he caught 77 passes for 1,210 yards and 12 touchdowns.

By designating him an exclusive franchise player, the Colts would have to pay Wayne the minimum of the average of the top five wide receivers or 120 percent of his 2005 salary, whichever sum is greater. Wayne earned $1.25 million last season, and thus would have to be offered the franchise minimum average, which for wide receivers would be at least $7.76 million.

"We just got done with our coaches meetings and we know we have two elite wide receivers and we understand their value," Polian said. "We understand the system and what it dictates."

James, of course, has heard the talk and noticed how his name seldom comes up in discussions about who stays and who goes. He wonders how a two-time league rushing champion who will appear in his fourth Pro Bowl on Feb. 12 can be so underappreciated, so easily replaced.

And as Chappell suggested, that's why James fully expects to be playing elsewhere in 2006.

When the veteran free agent market opens March 3, he'll see who's interested in a consummate running back who has rushed for a club-record 9,226 yards and amassed 12,065 total yards from scrimmage.

"Maybe I'll get to a situation where somebody appreciates me," James said. "I'm going to always be a ballplayer. You know I've got game. You can't knock what I do.

"I'm a running back like Walter Payton, somebody who played a long time. I'm in that mold. ... Guys who played 12, 13 years and always were consistent."

Chappell went on to note that James dismissed the criticism that he's an old running back and a damaged one. He'll be 28 when the '06 season opens, and another year removed from the injury to his left knee that forced him to miss the final 10 games of the 2001 season.

"People want to bring up the knee injury," he said, shaking his head in disbelief. "I'm like, 'Haven't I shown you what I can do? What more can I do?'"

In '05, James ranked fifth in the NFL is rushing with 1,506 yards. It was his fourth 1,500-yard season, enabling him to join Barry Sanders (five), Eric Dickerson (four) and Payton (four) as the only players in NFL history with at least four 1,500-yard campaigns.

Asked on Friday if he could envision life without his longtime running back, Peyton Manning told Star columnist Bob Kravitz, "Well, I don't want to. I don't know if you're supposed to pray for stuff like that, but I do. He's been the best teammate I've had, the most dependable as far as being there."

When Manning returns from the Pro Bowl he plans to visit James in Miami. "I want to go on his boat, Stress Free," he said. "And I'm buying. ..."

While Manning would prefer to think about sipping cool ones with his buddy, James sounds very much like a man ready to move on. In fact, he vows to be better next season for his next employer.

"I'm going to be a better player," James said. "I've always worked on being a better player, regardless of the situation. This ain't no different.

"A lot of people try to downplay my significance (with the Colts), but I know better."

As Chappell reminded readers, the Colts were 3-13 in 1998, and drafted James with the fourth overall pick in '99. They mounted the biggest turnaround in NFL history in his rookie season, posting a 13-3 record. James won the first of two straight league rushing championships with 1,553 yards. He rushed for a franchise-record 1,709 yards in 2000.

James points to the bottom line when assessing his value to the Colts: Since 1999, the Colts are 77-35. They're 70-26 when he plays, 7-9 when he doesn't.

"I know I did my part. That's the way I look at it," James said. "I did what I could do and I made a difference. I know I made a difference. When I was going to the team, people were saying, 'Man, you're going to a 3-13 team.' My first year we were 13-3."

Chappell added that if James' career with the Colts is indeed over, he'll walk away with no regrets and no angry words. He said playing for owner Jim Irsay and head coach Tony Dungy was "cool."

"That's just me," James said. "At the end of the day I can say I did my part. I did what they asked me to do. At the end of the day the truth will be seen and everybody will see what kind of player I am and how important of a player I am.

"For somebody else to come in and do what I did, it would be tough. Look at the difference when I'm there and when I'm not there. That's all you got to do. ..."

Hard to argue with that contention. ...

In a related note. ... Two of James running mates in Indy, backup Dominic Rhodes and fullback James Mungro are both unrestricted free agents, so their return for next season also remains up in the air. According to the Sports Xchange, Polian was not happy with the Colts' short-yardage and goal-line running in 2005, so major changes in the team's offensive backfield could be in store. ...

Also of interest. ...

Manning on Friday was named the winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.

The award, named after the legendary running back of the Chicago Bears, is the only NFL award that recognizes off-the-field community service as well as playing excellence.

"This award is one I'll cherish forever in part for the man it's named after and in part because it represents community service," Manning said. "With the great advantages of being an NFL quarterback comes great responsibility to make a difference in the community."

Manning joined an esteemed list of past winners that includes quarterbacks Dan Marino, John Elway and Troy Aikman, running backs Jerome Bettis and Warrick Dunn and linebacker Derrick Brooks. ...

In another Manning-related item. ... Asked by Kravitz about the furor over his postgame comments regarding the Colts' protection issues against Pittsburgh, the veteran signal caller replied: "People are saying, 'Have you patched things up with your offensive line?' There is no issue there whatsoever. They've always taken great care of me and I've always taken great care of them. I had to be one of the first to call Tarik Glenn when he got into the Pro Bowl. I told him to make sure he brought his Speedo. [Ryan] Diem scheduled a lineman trip and I'm still on the invite list."

Manning says he still gets late-night voice mails from Jake Scott, usually with lots of noise in the background.

"If I do something wrong, make a mistake, whether it's football or something else, I'll apologize and take accountability," Manning said. "But I was perceived to have done something I don't feel like I did, something I 100 percent was trying to avoid doing. ...

"I tried to choose four or five safe words that weren't safe enough."

In case you missed it, Manning raised some eyebrows after the Colts' 21-18 playoff loss to the Steelers when he appeared to criticize his offensive line.

Asked about the Steelers' pass rush that sacked him five times and hit or pressured him countless others, Manning said during his postgame news conference: "I'm trying to be a good teammate here. Let's just say we had some problems in protection. I'll give Pittsburgh credit for their blitzes and their rush. But we did have some protection problems."

While many have viewed that statement as an indication that Manning isn't as great a teammate as the public relations folks would like us to believe, I tend to agree with Marino on this one: The minute Manning said "we," he included himself in the criticism. ...

One last note on Manning. ... Even though the Steelers' blitz package did in the Colts in the playoffs, Sporting News columnist Dan Pompei reminded readers this past week that the best passer in the NFL against the blitz this season was. ... Manning.

According to STATS Inc., Manning threw for 1,116 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions on the 127 occasions he was blitzed. Manning was sacked nine times on blitzes, but his 123.3 passer rating against the blitz was tops in the NFL among regular starters.