Posted: Monday March 13, 2006 12:18AM; Updated: Monday March 13, 2006 10:19AM
Edgerrin James was a free agent less than two days before landing a big deal to be the Cardinals' go-to back.
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Edgerrin James went to a South Beach club last Friday night, hung out until dawn and finally repaired to his downtown Miami condo to catch a 45-minute catnap before beginning the first day of his life as a free agent. When James's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, arrived early Saturday morning to pick up the All-Pro halfback en route to Miami International Airport, there was barely time for him to grab a toothbrush and go.
James, who was headed for Phoenix to be wooed by the Arizona Cardinals, was determined to dress for the occasion. "I took off my pants and threw on a pair of shorts," he told SI.com Sunday evening, a few hours after signing a four-year, $30 million deal with the forlorn franchise. "We got on the plane and headed out West, and when I got off it was cold as f---."
The warm reception James got from the Cardinals helped convince the former Indianapolis Colts star to end his free-agent search without boarding another flight. It's a move that makes a lot of sense for Arizona, which now adds a versatile, potent runner to a highly productive passing attack featuring a pair of excellent wideouts in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. It also validates the 27-year-old James' long-standing desire for a lucrative, multiyear deal and satisfies his desire to continue playing for a coach (Denny Green, who helped mentor current Indy coach Tony Dungy) who doesn't pound his players into submission.
"We really think this is an up-and-coming organization," says Rosenhaus, who also represents Boldin and third-year defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. "We really love the opportunity. They've got a brand-new stadium, Denny's a player-friendly coach who will give Edge a lot of flexibility in terms of preparation, and he's going to be a focal point. The players on the team now feel a burst of adrenaline -- for the first time in free agency, a legitimate superstar in his prime has come here, and you can sense the excitement."
What excited James most of all, of course, was a fat deal that will pay him $25 million -- only $250,000 less than LaDainian Tomlinson, the league's highest-paid running back, will earn in the first three years of the contract he signed before the 2004 campaign. (James can also earn another $1 million in incentives over that span.) Last year, when no team stepped in over the offseason to trade for James or the Seahawks' Shaun Alexander (who had been franchised by their respective teams), it seemed that the market for veteran running backs had collapsed for the foreseeable future.
But that all changed at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, a minute after James officially hit the open market, when Rod Graves, the Cardinals' vice president of football operations, called Rosenhaus in the agent's Miami Beach home office and said, "We'd like to fly you out here, and our intention is not to let you leave without a deal."
Upon his arrival on Saturday, James met with Green and running backs coach Kirby Wilson at the team's training facility. He politely declined a dinner invitation -- "They didn't have to do all that for me," he said -- later hooking up with Boldin and several other players at the Phoenix Suns' game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at America West Arena. Afterward, they went to a club, where numerous Cardinals fans approached James and practically begged him to sign.
On Sunday, James did, after some fits and starts, he says, which resembled the NFLPA's recent roller-coaster ride of a negotiation with the owners for a new collective bargaining agreement. By mid-day Sunday, James said, "I was in the building waiting to hear from Drew if we had a deal or not. I had my bags and everything packed, and if it hadn't worked out, we'd have headed straight for the airport."
In that case, the Colts and two other teams would have been in play, and James and Rosenhaus would have continued their tour in another NFL city that neither would reveal. Instead, Rosenhaus finalized the contract, and soon there was a press conference that James attended with but one regret: "I had wanted to take Trick Daddy with me to the press conference, but things unfolded so fast. He was going to be the 'Other Drew' -- that would've been live."
The Miami rapper, James said, "was disappointed he couldn't make it. But I guess I'll have to bring him to the first game."