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Martin running out of time

Pal sees one foot out door



Curtis Martin

Before coming to New York for the start of training camp, Curtis Martin was so concerned about his lingering knee injury that he spoke with people close to him about the possibility of retiring, according to two people close to the Jets' running back.

Martin, ever the warrior, decided to plow ahead. But, nearly two weeks into training camp, the team's all-time leading rusher appears closer to retirement than the playing field. The signs are ominous.

"I'd be really shocked if he came back," one person close to Martin said.

Martin underwent arthroscopic surgery last December after playing nearly the entire season with damaged cartilage, bone chips and a bone bruise in his right knee. The surgery was thought to be minor, but his 33-year-old knee was left with virtually no cartilage, leaving a bone-on-bone condition.

"The injury was a lot worse than anyone thought," the person said. "I'm pretty sure the cartilage is gone and it's bone on bone. It's pretty intolerable."

Martin was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list at the start of camp, meaning he can't practice until he passes a physical. Out of respect for Martin and his toughness, the Jets are giving him a chance to get healthy. They don't want to count him out until it's truly over, but there's a growing feeling within the organization that Martin is finished.

Martin has two options: He can call it quits before the end of the preseason or he can remain on the PUP list when the regular season starts, meaning he would have to sit out the first sixgames. That would buy more time to continue his rehabilitation.

"He has to make a decision," said another person close to Martin, suggesting the future Hall of Famer is indeed mulling retirement.

Coach Eric Mangini said that Martin comes in for rehab every day, and like with all knee injuries, his situation is difficult to forecast.

"The way we're approaching all the injuries is exactly the same," Mangini said. "There has really been no change in his status, with either our approach or his approach."

On the second day of camp, Martin stated emphatically that he wants to play, although he stopped short of saying he would be back.

Since then, he has been invisible to the public, rehabbing behind the scenes, not even showing up to watch practice. It seems the organization is trying to shield him. Some of his own teammates say they don't see him that much anymore. At Sunday's intrasquad scrimmage at the Meadowlands, he was seen limping deep inside the stadium.

Martin's agent, Eugene Parker, declined to comment.

The Jets are aggressively exploring the running-back market, a strong indication that Martin no longer is in their immediate plans. It seems highly likely they will make a trade in the next week or two, hoping to bolster a backfield that looks extremely vulnerable.

Some may recall that Martin signed an eight-year contract in 2002 that included a unique insurance provision that would enable to Jets to recoup a portion of his signing bonus ($10 million) if he suffered a career-ending injury. Problem is, the policy expired after the 2003 season, according to an NFL source.:Cuss:

Chad Pennington, making his own return from injury, only knows he misses the Jets' mainstay of the last eight seasons.

"We know what Curtis means to our organization," said Chad Pennington, who also said he hasn't seen much of Martin. "We just can't wait to see him out here."

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I respect Mangini's sense of privacy but at some point treat Curtis like the class act that he is. It is not like teams are going to game plan for Curtis and it is apparent he is not coming back any time soon. Why hide him like the plague?

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It will be a sad day when Curtis Martin hangs up the cleats but you can tell the end is near. Martin has always said he wanted to play 12 seasons and then we'll see. Well this would be Martin's 12th season so maybe he's hanging on by a thread right now for just this one more.

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