On the ‘Edge' of Greatness

By their own admission, the Bears have already filled their to biggest needs through free agency. However, the team is still in search of playmakers on offense. There's little doubt that Colts' RB Edgerrin James would fit the bill, but can the Bears afford the asking price.

Indianapolis placed the franchise tag on James, which would pay him $8.08 million for one season. Any team that signs him would have to send two first round picks to the Colts. While the Bears are not going that route, the team may consider another deal.

James recently hired Drew Rosenhaus to represent him and the super agent has said the Colts are willing to trade his client without needing a first round pick back as compensation. The Bears are familiar with Rosenhaus because he also represents Adewale Ogunleye and was instrumental in getting him traded from Miami to Chicago last August.

If the report is true and the Colts are willing to trade James for a package of picks and players then the Bears may be willing to talk.

The Bears don't have the cap space to sign James to the type of dealing he's seeking, similar to the eight-year $50.5 million contract Clinton Portis received from the Redskins that included a signing bonus of $17 million.

However, there are players the team is considering cutting to free up cap space. Rex Tucker and R.W. McQuarters are atop the list.

The Bears could offer Thomas Jones to the Colts as a replacement for James as well as an assortment of draft picks.

Indianapolis needs help on defense and specifically in the secondary. McQuarters could interest the Colts, but the primary reason they're willing to part with James is their own salary cap problems. They've given big money deals to Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison Brandon Stokley and Ryan Diem within the past year.

The Bears are debating whether to take a running back or wide receiver with the fourth pick in the draft. Acquiring James without giving up the selection would allow them to take the top receiver on the board

Rex Grossman would suddenly have a plethora of offensive options with James, Muhsin Muhammad and the addition of either Braylon Edwards or Mike Williams.

The Bears could even afford the luxury of selecting a defender. A shutdown corner such as Antrel Rolle of Miami or West Virginia's Adam "Pac Man" Jones could add a new dimension to an already deep secondary. Texas linebacker Derrick Johnson would complete one of the best trios in the NFL.

James has been one of the most productive backs in the game since being selected by the Colts with the fourth pick in the 1999 draft.

Many thought Bill Polian was nuts for passing on Ricky Williams for James, but that decision proved to be the right one. James rushed for 1,553 yards and had 17 total touchdowns as a rookie. He followed that with 1,709 yards and 18 scores.

In the sixth game of the 2001 season, James tore the ACL in his left knee and missed the remainder of the season.

James looked ordinary coming back from the injury in 2002 and also played through two separate ankle sprains. He averaged a career low 3.6 yards per carry and rushed for 989 yards. James regained form in 2003 with 1,259 yards on the ground and took it up a notch with 1,548 yards last season, including 204 against the Bears.

The six-foot, 214-pounder is a dual threat as a receiver out of the backfield. He had at least 51 receptions in five of the six years he's been in the league.

The question is if James can hold up over the long haul. Although he's been in the league for six seasons, he won't turn 27 until the start of training camp.

The Colts traded another running back that some considered on the downturn. All Marshall Faulk did in St. Louis was go over 2,000 yards from the line of scrimmage in his first three seasons with the Rams and helped them to a Super Bowl victory.

On the other hand, James already suffered a major knee injury. He doesn't appear to have the same breakaway ability that he had before the incident. He had 23 runs of 20 yards or more in his first 38 games and just 12 over the past 43.

Playing on the most talented offense in the league has also helped James. With Peyton Manning throwing to Marvin Harrison and company, James has never had to carry an offense.

The fast track of the RCA Dome would appear to help James' stats. Upon further review, his '04 numbers were basically the same at home and away with 754 and 794 yards rushing respectively. He averaged 5.1 per carry away from the dome compared to 4.2 at home.

If there is any question about James, Lovie Smith can turn to long time friend Tony Dungy. The two are close enough that Dungy would give Smith the honest assessment the Bears may need to pull the trigger on such a deal.

Acquiring James would impact the salary cap situation for years. It could ultimately lead to the type of purge that the Tennessee Titans had to go through this off-season.

Any deal involving James would be Jerry Angelo's boldest since becoming the general manager in 2001. The risk reward factor could be enough to gamble on James, but if he can't come close to matching the production he had with the Colts then it could be Angelo that goes bust.

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