CB Will Peterson changes name, signs deal with Eagles

Maybe a name change will reverse the fortunes of star-crossed cornerback Will Peterson.

The five-year veteran, who at one point was one of the NFL's emerging young standouts at the position, but who has not played in a game in nearly 14 months because of back problems, on Tuesday signed a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

He also changed his name to William James.

To make room on the roster for James, the Eagles waived cornerback Dexter Wynn, a sixth-round pick in the 2004 draft, who played in 28 games in three seasons with the team.

"William is someone that we have liked for a long time, going back to when I was in Miami, and he was coming out in the [2001] draft," general manager Tom Heckert said of James. "We obviously know him very well, from having played against him two times a year when he was with the Giants. He's a very good cover corner who has good size and, when healthy, he was a very productive player for the Giants. We feel very confident that he can help us in the near future."

By any name, James, who was released by the New York Giants early this spring, is a solid gamble for a team that has suffered some injuries in the secondary this season. It is not yet known how the Eagles will use James, particularly now that nickel cornerback Roderick Hood seems to have recovered from some nagging injuries. But for James, the one-year deal provides an opportunity to demonstrate to teams that he is healthy again, and then he will be able to go into the unrestricted free-agent market in the spring.

After months of treatments and rehabilitation, James, 27, was cleared by specialists in late September to return to the football field and began auditioning for teams a few weeks ago. Several teams demonstrated interest in James, but he opted for the Eagles, and passed his physical exam on Tuesday.

A third-round selection of the Giants in the 2001 draft, James missed 11 games in 2003 after suffering a stress fracture to the right transverse process, a small bone in the lower back. He returned to camp the following summer and was so highly regarded that the Giants signed him to a five-year, $27 million contract extension.

James responded by playing in all 16 games in 2004, arguably the best season of his career. But then last season, the back problems flared up in camp, worsened early in the season, and eventually forced James onto injured reserve. The diagnosis: an old displaced fracture and so-called "hot spots," a sign of a potential stress fracture to the left transverse process.

Unlike the 2003 injury, this one wasn't a full-blown fracture.

"Basically, they told him it would be better if it had been broken all the way," agent Ron Slavin said at the time. "So one of the things that they suggested was that he do some hard running, hoping to break the bone. Instead, with all the running he did, the area around the bone got stronger."

Surgery was out of the question, because it would have ended James' career. But through hard work, his back is stronger now, and he's prepared to resume a career that stalled when the Giants released him in May, after a two-day battery of tests.

The former Western Illinois standout has played in just 23 games since 2003, but, in a league where no one ever seems to have enough cornerbacks, he is certainly an intriguing player. In 51 games, he has 199 tackles, five interceptions and 32 passes defensed.

Wynn had 37 tackles, one sack and nine passes defensed in his 28 appearances with the Eagles. He also returned 35 kickoffs for a 19.1-yard average and 22 punts for an average of 8.2 yards.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.