Many believed James would show up to camp late, if at all,
skip out on the trip to Japan, and
be a distraction to the Colts during the preseason.
He's done just the opposite--saying the right things and attending
mandatory team functions while keeping his frustration and disappointment about
a lack of a long term contract from the forefront.
Common thinking is, how could someone be upset about making over $8 million a year? This is a fair question since most of us probably won't make that much money in a lifetime of work. But this is professional football, and in the disproportionate and ridiculous football world, James has a reason to be discontent.
James has played his entire career as a Colt. He has stayed in impeccable shape, recovered beyond expectation from injury, and has been a model citizen off the field.
How quickly his brilliance upon entry into the league is forgotten--the two rushing titles in his first two seasons and the dents he put on the record books. When James went down with his knee injury which required reconstructive surgery in 2001, many figured he would never again be an elite running back. However, James has steadily returned to the greatness he showed in his first two seasons before his surgery. He has improved his numbers each year and competed for the rushing title in 2004 despite being a member of an offense that led the league in passing yards and touchdowns.
Few realize that if James plays until he is only 31 years old, he would be on pace to conclude his career among the top 5 rushers of all time.
Still, how could someone be upset about making over $8 million? Perhaps it's because of what he has accomplished and contributed to the Colts and the loyalty the organization has shown to others who have done the same.
Players such as Ryan Diem and Brandon Stokely were also given generous contracts to ensure an extended tenure in blue and white. So why not Edge? Some would argue that running backs are a dime a dozen, a position easily replaced.
Maybe most running backs are easily replaceable, but James is not like most running backs. A little known statistic shows that in 15 of the Colts last 16 regular season and playoff losses, James has come short of 100 rushing yards. Manning is known as the best quarterback at carrying out a play action fake, but Manning's fakes are successful due to the dedication James has put forth in making them sell. Manning is one of the least sacked quarterbacks in the NFL, which is a credit not only to the offensive line, but also to James who is an excellent pass blocker.
How about hands? Does a replaceable running back average 52 catches a year at 8 yards a catch over his career?
To further illustrate James' importance to his team, look back to the 2001 season. After the game in which James went down with his knee injury, the Colts were 3-3. Following his injury, the team went 3-7, Manning threw 14 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. Dominic Rhodes filled in admirably in James's absence, setting an undrafted rookie record with over 1,000 rushing yards. But the little things Edgerrin brought to the team were gone. Other teams didn't respect the run or the play action fake, and in turn, the season ended in disaster. At 6-10 the 2001 season was the only time over the last 6 seasons the Colts didn't make the playoffs.
What is worrisome about James' seemingly inevitable departure, is that the Colts seem unprepared for it. Rhodes has great speed and big play ability, but is he a 16+ game "every down back"? It would be hard to imagine the Colts using a high draft pick on an offensive player in the near future considering their needs on defense. Should we believe James Mungro, Ran Carthon, or Anthony Davis can step up and be that guy?
Whatever the case, something will be missing if the Colts enter the 2006 season without number 32 behind Manning. Hopefully, Bill Polian will have brought Indianapolis to the promised land with "The Triplets" by that time, having finally achieved ultimate success with his version of Montana, Rice and Craig….Aikman, Irvin and Smith….or Kelly, Reed and Thomas.
Emmitt Smith took his last handoff in a Cardinal jersey, Joe Montana threw his last pass in Kansas City and Jerry Rice will likely catch his last ball in Denver. This doesn't seem right to me.
In my idealistic vision for the Colts, I see a Super Bowl trophy. I see Manning, James and Harrison winding down their careers with horseshoes on their helmets -- all lifetime Colts when they put on their yellow jackets in Canton. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but it makes sense to me.