The Edge of Reason

There has been media speculation this week about the possibility of Edgerrin James returning to the Colts. Plausible or impossible? Find out here.

Possibly through rose-colored glasses or perhaps armed with information that ColtPower is not privy to, there has been chatter from some sources about a reunion between Edgerrin James and the Indianapolis Colts this offseason.

There is little doubt that James' return would be a tremendous boon for the Colts.

He is a respected player and is an asset in the locker room, as he gets along with everyone while still keeping them cognizant of the pecking order.  Peyton Manning called him the best pass-blocking tailback in the NFL prior to his departure following the 2005 season and from looking at the film, James certainly hasn't lost his touch in the desert.  With James playing on third downs, Manning would have an extra — and very accomplished — blocker, as well as a sure-handed safety valve.  Clifton Dawson and Kenton Keith in particular struggled in the passing game this year and, while Joseph Addai shows promise, he still isn't the player that James is on third down.

Peyton Manning has called James the best pass-blocking tailback in the NFL
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The addition of James to the roster would certainly solve the depth issue at the tailback position.  And, of course, the fans and media adore James, with good reason, so it would be a PR boost for a franchise trying to sell tickets in a new stadium — similar to the boost Edge gave the Arizona Cardinals in 2006.

For the Cardinals, they are a young team that needs to get younger at running back.  James will turn 30 before the season starts, that magical age when players at his position start to decline — not to mention he has a lot of miles on his tires relative to his age.

They are, in theory, tight against the cap and need to use all available funds to secure young, emerging talent for the long term, having scored victories last season with the additions of Roderick Hood and Sean Morey, and needing to sign franchise linebacker Karlos Dansby to a multi-year deal.  They have already opened their new stadium, sold it out, and hosted a Super Bowl, so why would they need James now?

But, as wonderful as it is to imagine Edge donning the blue and white next season, the chances are slim-to-none.

It's true that James will be on the wrong side of 30 when the season opens, but Arizona's younger options at running back are J.J. Arrington and Marcel Shipp.  Both are talented young men, but both have had the opportunity to be the featured back in the Cardinals offense and neither has come close to approaching the success that James has.

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is no fool.  He understands that Edge possesses the right qualities of all three backs he had during his days as the offensive coordinator of the Steelers: James has the power and determination in short yardage situations of Jerome Bettis (the later years), some of the breakaway ability and considerably better receiving skills than Willie Parker, and the third down expertise of Verron Haynes.

They would let him walk if they didn't have a lot of cap room to work with.  But according to sources, the Cardinals are actually going to be $30 million under the projected $116 million salary cap for 2008.

While they still have to pay for franchising Dansby and definitely need to work out Larry Fitzgerald's contract, they will have plenty of space for James, who is already accounted for in the 2008 books.

In fact, cutting James now just wouldn't be good business. After paying him $20 million over the first two years of his deal, Arizona only owes him a total of $5 million for the next two. And, they would take a $3.5 million hit on pro-rated money from that $20 million if they were to cut him now.

It's unlikely James will be wearing blue and white next season
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If Arizona was able to sign someone like San Diego's Michael Turner, they might let James go.  After all, they are looking to go younger at all positions, especially tailback. But, again, Whisenhunt is no fool: As the 2005 Steelers, 2006 Colts, and 2007 Giants proved, a team can never have too many quality running backs.

Therefore, if the Cardinals sign Turner, spend $20 million of this year's cap to do so, and the number for the franchise designation for a linebacker jumps to $10 million, James will be headed out of Arizona.

Let's assume that the above situation actually occurs: Edge is released by the Cardinals, and subsequently signs with the Colts.  Where will he fit into the offense?  James has become accustomed, throughout his career, to being "the guy."  If he were relegated to a back-up/situational back role, how would he react?  Now that the featured back role is filled by Addai, would James embrace the young veteran, or despise him?

James would obviously work well with the media and the fans and his return would boost season ticket sales.  But, how many tickets are available on the average Sunday with the current stadium? 

Indianapolis doesn't need to sell tickets through PR and hype.  They sell tickets by winning football games.  While Edge would be a welcome addition, he may not fit as well into the current roster as he did into the 2005 roster.  And, given how much of Arizona's future is tied to the success or failure of Edgerrin James, his return just doesn't seem plausible.

But, as Earnest Hemmingway would say, "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

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