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Colts designate James their franchise player


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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ The Indianapolis Colts designated Edgerrin James their franchise player Tuesday, taking another step toward keeping their high-scoring offense intact.

The Pro Bowl running back is a non-exclusive franchise player, which means James could accept a one-year deal from the Colts worth a little more than $8 million _ a 20 percent raise from his salary last season _ try to work out a long-term deal with the Indianapolis or sign with another team.

Indianapolis would have seven days to match another team's offer and would be compensated with two first-round draft choices if James leaves.

``We decided the best thing to do would be to put the non-exclusive tag on him,'' Colts president Bill Polian said. ``It allows us to retain our rights going forward and it allows us to try and work something out.''

James just finished his best season since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in October 2001. He rushed for 1,548 yards and nine touchdowns, caught 51 passes for 483 yards and had a career-high average of 4.6 yards per carry. He also went to his third Pro Bowl

Indianapolis' decision was expected after Colts owner Jim Irsay announced in early December that the team would use the franchise tag to prevent James from hitting open market.

The situation was complicated because James has apparently changed agents. The NFL Players Association Web site lists Scott Parker as James' agent.

But last week, after Polian said negotiations had not even started, one of James' other representatives told the team that Parker was no longer the running back's agent.

Without knowing who to contact for James' contract demands, Irsay then called the two-time NFL rushing champion on Friday.

``The only thing Jim (Irsay) could glean from the conversation was that he wanted a long-term contract and didn't relish a one-year deal,'' Polian said. ``That left us in a quandary.''

James has not spoken to Indianapolis reporters since the Colts' 20-3 second-round playoff loss at New England, and Parker has not returned repeated messages left at his office by The Associated Press.

Now the Colts must make sure the 26-year-old James is satisfied.

The franchise salary for running backs is $6.3 million, but because James' cap number last year was $6.7 million, the team is required to give him a 20 percent increase to make it more than $8 million.

But there have been indications that the Florida native who played his college football at the University of Miami would like to play closer to home.

The Miami Dolphins have needed a running back since Ricky Williams, who was taken one spot behind James in the 1999 draft, unexpectedly retired last summer.

Polian said he talked to Dolphins coach Nick Saban several times in the past few weeks and that no trade was mentioned.

The other worry is a potential holdout.

``To my knowledge, he hasn't talked about it,'' Polian said. ``That's always an issue with us because we think everybody should be in training camp.''

Keeping the Colts' powerful offense together has been the primary focus this offseason.

They re-signed record-setting receiver Marvin Harrison to a six-year $66 million contract in December, a move that prevented the Colts from potentially losing either Harrison or James. Then they re-signed wide receiver Brandon Stokley to a five-year, $17 million deal.

On Monday, the Colts made Ryan Diem one of the highest-paid right tackles in the league when he agreed to a seven-year deal that included a signing bonus of about $12 million.

On Tuesday, Indianapolis also assured itself of keeping James' backup, Dominic Rhodes. Polian said the two sides had agreed in principle, even though Rhodes' agent said last week that the back was looking for a starting job.

Depending on how James' situation plays out, that could still happen with the Colts.

Indianapolis now has 14 days to sign James or they must wait until July 15 to reach a long-term deal.

Irsay has now spent more than $40 million in signing bonuses over the past three months, all on offensive players.

``Obviously, Jim is putting his money where my mouth is,'' Polian said.

Polian said he also wants to concentrate on possibly restructuring the deals of high-priced veterans Marcus Pollard, Mike Vanderjagt and Brad Scioli.

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The Jets are going to have to draft a guy probably in the second or third round to groom behind Curtis-

Lamont is not going to get either the money or playing time here so I really do not see a chance of him staying.

Moats, Shelton and Cedric Houston would all be nice as draft picks

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