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NFL numbers make dealing RBs difficult

By Len Pasquarelli

Talk is cheap but the NFL salary cap is an expensive proposition.

The latter of those realities is why, despite rumors that immediately precipitated headlines in all three NFL cities involved, neither Edgerrin James of the Indianapolis Colts nor the New Orleans Saints' Ricky Williams is likely to be traded to the Miami Dolphins in the offseason.

While it may be true that the Dolphins will seek a high-profile tailback to replace the incumbent Lamar Smith, who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent and suffered a miserable year in 2001, the contracts of Williams and James will all but preclude a trade.

Published reports earlier this week, citing sources close to the players, said both tailbacks would look favorably on a trade to Miami. It is notable that James, who led the league in rushing each of his first two years in the NFL, is rehabilitating from season-ending knee surgery in South Florida and has ties to Miami since he played there in college. It should also be pointed out that the two tailbacks are represented by the same agent, Leigh Steinberg.

"From our end, there's no truth to it, none at all," said a Dolphins source. "I mean, it would be nearly impossible to pull off. Just do the math."

Indeed, the salary cap figures don't lie, and they suggest that a trade of James or Williams is good rumor-mill grist but bad business for the Colts and Saints.

The Saints, for instance, would absorb a hit of $5.502 million against their 2002 salary cap if they dealt Williams, who is under contract through the 2006 season. The impact for the Colts would be even higher, $6.5 million, in any trade of James, under contract through 2005.

Indianapolis is approximately $3.4 million under the projected 2002 spending limit of $71.8 million, but has several prominent pending free agents, notably starting offensive left tackle Tarik Glenn, to attempt to re-sign. New Orleans is roughly $500,000 over the anticipated '02 cap.

Saints coach Jim Haslett adamantly rebuffed the rumors, saying that Williams "absolutely" will be back in New Orleans next season. In his third season, the former University of Texas star and Heisman Trophy winner has established career bests in carries (302), yards (1,212), receptions (56), and receiving yards (519), and scored seven touchdowns.

Haslett agreed that the salary cap ramifications make a trade almost impossible, but noted that the Saints have no plans to deal Williams even if the monetary implications were not a factor.

James continues to rehabilitate his surgically-repaired knee in South Florida and, while he may not agree with the manner in which some Colts officials handled his injury, has never publicly stated his desire to leave the team.

Said quarterback Peyton Manning: "We know as a team, and I know as a teammate, that this is where he wants to be."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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