When Edgerrin James stepped off the plane Saturday for his visit to Arizona, he was clad in only shorts and a shirt, unprepared for the chilly weather and constant rain.
The Cardinals gave a large team jacket to James, but he refused to put it on.
“I can’t wear another team’s gear unless it’s official,” the running back said Sunday, shortly after he completed the franchise’s biggest transaction since the team moved to Arizona by signing a four-year, $30 million contract.
“Now,” James said, “I’ll wear that Cardinals jacket.”
Getting James, a four-time Pro Bowler, to don their colors may have been the Cardinals’ second greatest off-field victory, topped only by the vote to build Glendale Stadium.
Money, of course, was the biggest factor. The Cardinals had cap space and there wasn’t a big market for James given his desire to cash in.
James will collect $14.75 million this season between a $7 million signing bonus, a $4.5 million roster bonus and a salary of $3.25 million. His salaries for the next three seasons will be $5.25 million in 2007 and $5 million in both 2008 and 2009.
It didn’t hurt that the team is moving into a new stadium and desperately needed an upgrade at running back after rushing for an NFL-worst 71.1 yards a game last season.
“This,” said James’ agent, Drew Rosenhaus, “was a no-brainer for us.”
But it took more than that to woo James. That’s why fellow Floridian and Rosenhaus client Anquan Boldin played a big role. Boldin, weary of three seasons of losing with the Cardinals, pushed hard for James to come to the Valley, starting with a conversation he had with James at a recent charity basketball game in Florida.
“He was like, ‘All we need is a back,’ ” James recounted. "He said he was tired of having all those guys back there covering him.”
Boldin, who hosted James Saturday night for dinner and an appearance at the Suns’ game, acknowledged by the time the evening was over he felt he would have a new teammate.
“I was confident it would happen,” Boldin said Sunday.
“It’ll draw more attention to us, especially from other free agents,” Boldin added, “and hopefully that will let them know we are a team going in the right direction.”
The Cardinals still need more than just a back to improve the rushing game. The team signed free agent guard Milford Brown, but there remain questions as to whether the offensive line will be good enough to clear the way for James.
“As long as they make it the priority (to fix), it is cool,” James said. “If they said they weren’t going to do nothing, I probably wouldn’t have made the connect. I probably would have re-routed.”
Offensive line issues could get messy later — “I told coach (Dennis Green), ‘I hope this isn’t going to mess with my 100 yards a game, because I’m used to getting my 100 yards,’ ” James joked — but Green made it clear James would be the workhorse with J.J. Arrington and Marcel Shipp relegated to infrequent duty.
“If we’re not running it, it’s not going to be on (Edgerrin),” Green said. “It’s going to be on us.”
Perhaps the only issue surrounding James is his penchant for staying in Miami in the offseason rather than working out with the team — something Green in the past has made clear he does not like.
James said he talked to Green and won’t change his workout routine, although “this year, I’m going to make sure I am around so me and the guys can get familiar with each other.”
Said a suddenly flexible Green, “Some players, it’s easier to be here all the time, some it isn’t. . . . It will work out just fine.”
That sentiment was hard to argue Sunday.
“Anytime you get a good back, it’s better for the defense,” said newly signed defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy. “We can sit on the sideline and drink some Gatorade while we watch the offense play.”