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By Michael Marot, The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — Edgerrin James may not be packing his bags anytime soon. Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian said Thursday he thought it was unlikely James would be traded on draft weekend.
"I think that would be far-fetched," Polian said. "Barring trade discussions in the normal course of events, he's not going anywhere."
Polian could merely be maintaining a poker face — as he and other NFL executives are prone to do in the days leading up to the NFL draft.
Even if he is bluffing, trade talk has continued to swirl around the Colts' career rushing leader.
Last month, James signed the Colts' one-year tender worth about $8 million for 2005. That decision came one week after Polian gave agent Drew Rosenhaus permission to shop the 26-year-old James for less than a first-round pick. Rosenhaus hasn't yet found a taker.
James, a two-time NFL rushing champ and three-time Pro Bowler, wants a long-term contract, something Polian believes would be prohibitive for a team that has locked up quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Brandon Stokley and right tackle Ryan Diem to lucrative deals.
Still, Rosenhaus remains hopeful he can either reach a deal with the Colts or find another team willing to make a trade, perhaps this weekend.
"I would certainly not be surprised if something happened during or after the draft," Rosenhaus told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "I think a lot of the teams that may be interested in Edgerrin also may be calculating what they're going to do in the draft."
This year's class of running backs is expected to be one of the deepest in years. At least three players — Auburn's Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams and Texas' Cedric Benson — are projected to go in the first round.
On Thursday, though, Polian made his strongest statement yet that James wasn't going anywhere.
"Who would you trade him for?" Polian said. "We could trade his contract, but we're not going to, absent someone offering me half of Circle Centre Mall and even then I don't know if I'd do it. We still may not trade him."
So the Colts, the only NFL franchise not to sign a veteran free agent from another team this offseason, are focusing on improving their Super Bowl aspirations through the draft.
Indianapolis has nine picks in the two-day draft, which begins Saturday morning. Their first pick will be No. 29.
One concern Polian has is that he does not believe this is a deep draft. Polian said he has fewer than 150 players on the Colts draft board, the lowest number he has ever had going into a draft weekend.
And he acknowledged that the Colts could still be active traders, even if James isn't involved.
Polian said the Colts have already been asked if they're interested in a top 10 pick. His answer: No.
Other teams asked the Colts if they wanted to move into the top 20.
"The answer to that is we won't know until we know who is left," Polian said.
The more likely scenario may be trading down. Last year, the Colts traded down twice before taking safety Bob Sanders in the second round. Polian also traded down in 2001 when he took wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
While most analysts figure the Colts will again focus on defense — as they have done in each of Tony Dungy's first three drafts with Indianapolis — Polian could just as easily dispel that theory as he did when using first-round picks on Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark in 2003.
Of the nine players the Colts have targeted, Polian said only five are defenders.
The most telling sign about James' future could be whether the Colts take a running back on the first day, a tactic Polian did not rule out.
If the Colts do draft one of the top running backs, the choice would likely become James' eventual replacement and could give the Colts more leverage if James was traded.
Until then, Polian expects James to be back with the Colts.
"You never say never," Polian said. "But my thought is that he signed the tender so he's happy with the offer, we're happy with him, so let's go play."
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.