METAIRIE, La. -- Drew Brees gets a loud reminder of Deuce McAllister's extraordinary popularity in New Orleans every time he lines up the Saints' offense near the goal line in the Louisiana Superdome.
"The way the people in this city love him, you hear it every Sunday," Brees said, then began mimicking the arm-waving he does when he needs to quiet the crowd. "They're chanting, 'Deuce,' and I've got to tell them to 'Shhhh, be quiet,' so the guys can hear me give the snap count down in the red zone."
The encouraging howls for the Saints' all-time rusher have been a part of Sundays in the Superdome since McAllister's breakout year in 2002, his second NFL season, when he ran for 1,388 yards and 13 touchdowns to go with 352 yards and three scores receiving.
There's also a real possibility those distinctive cheers won't be heard in the dome again after this Sunday's regular season finale against the Carolina Panthers.
"All I can do is go out and play and whatever happens after that is going to happen," McAllister said after Wednesday's practice. "I'm going to play again. There are a couple more years I still want to play. I have a contract, you know, so we'll see what happens."
In some ways, the contract is the problem. Before the 2005 season, McAllister signed a seven-year extension that potentially would pay him a little more than $50 million through 2012. Since then, he has had reconstructive surgery on both knees and this season had only a limited role in Sean Payton's pass-heavy attack.
Often wearing a brace because of swelling in his left knee and sometimes missing practice to have fluid drained, McAllister has rushed 99 times this season for 378 yards and five touchdowns. Even since Reggie Bush went out for the season with a knee injury, McAllister has backed up emerging second-year running back Pierre Thomas.
Next season, McAllister could be due up to $7.2 million in salary, bonuses and incentives. Few teams, if any, can afford to pay that much to a role player, so McAllister and many of his teammates seem resigned to the distinct possibility that he may be leaving New Orleans in the offseason.
"It's been such an honor for me to play with a guy like that and I hope that it extends further, but in this business you never know," Brees said. "He's meant so much to us, not only his productivity, but the kind of guy he is in the locker room and his leadership ability and speaking out when something needs to be said.
"We just all know what he stands for. He stands for everything that's good about this game and about not only what you do on the field but what you do off the field. ... He's a true professional. He's a class guy, but if it is indeed his last game, he will be missed."
General manager Mickey Loomis has said it's premature to discuss McAllister's future with the Saints during the season. Payton, however, has acknowledged that McAllister may not be back and that he needs to give him some opportunities to go out the right way this Sunday if that is indeed the case.
"We'll make sure he gets enough touches and in regards to introductions and all that other stuff I think it's important," Payton said. "He felt a little bit better last weekend and it looked better when he ran. He felt pretty good today, so that's encouraging."
McAllister has not shown enough speed to break long runs this season. His longest is 19 yards. He has shown his same old power and vision, however, averaging 3.8 yards per carry and rarely going down for a loss. In a victory in Detroit last weekend, his rushes of 18 and 19 yards highlighted a nine-carry, 61-yard, one touchdown performance during which he eclipsed 6,000 career yards rushing. Several weeks earlier, he powered into the end zone from 3 yards out to set a franchise record for touchdowns, which now stands at 55.
"Deuce has at least two or three more years in him," fullback Mike Karney said. "He might be limping out there and running with one leg, but he can still play. I'll take a beat-up Deuce any day of the week."
McAllister said he would prefer to stay in New Orleans, not far from his native Mississippi, where he played in college for Ole Miss. His car dealerships, restaurants and charities are all based in the region. He is cheered wildly at public appearances in the area.
But McAllister also wants to be more than a role player.
"You want to leave on your own terms and whether it's good or bad, eventually you're going to have to go," McAllister said. "But I feel like I can still play this game. So whatever happens as far as playing it here, there, wherever it may be, that's going to happen, but I want to be here."
If he has to leave the area, "It will be definitely difficult," he said.
Numerous teammates asserted that New Orleans also has had something special as long as McAllister has been around.
"I told Deuce, I've been telling him for a long time, that I'm going to be able to tell my kids someday -- hopefully when I have kids -- that I played with Deuce," Karney said. "I think that says it all right there."