TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -Three days before the defending Super Bowl champions come to town, the Arizona Cardinals found themselves talking about Edgerrin James, who wants out of town.
No longer a significant part of Arizona's offense, the running back has asked for his release, a request the club has denied.
Now the question is whether the stir over James' request will affect the Cardinals as they race toward their first division title since they moved to the desert in 1988.
On Sunday, Arizona plays host to the New York Giants on the same field where the Giants won the Super Bowl last February. But the first four questions fired at Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt after Thursday's practice had to do with James, who has carried three times for five yards since being replaced by rookie Tim Hightower three weeks ago.
nd that. But that happens a lot in the NFL. Shoot, that happens a lot in life.
``You know, the mark of being a professional is continuing to work - and we expect Edgerrin to be a professional,'' Whisenhunt said. ``And I think that's only reasonable based on the significant investment and financial obligation that we've made to Edgerrin.''
Arizona general manager Rod Graves reiterated Thursday that the club has no plans to release James. The 30-year-old James has one year left on a four-year, $30-million deal, but it's widely thought this will be his last year in Arizona.
James worked out with the team on Thursday and flashed his usual smile when reporters approached him after practice.
``I'm just practicing and working and doing what I'm supposed to do,'' James said, declining to answer further questions.
James' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said James wants to go where he can play. James has topped 1,000 yards each of the past five seasons. He ranks first among active players and 13th overall with 11,992 yards gained.
``The reason is simple. Edgerrin is healthy, he's still in his prime and we know he can still play at the highest level,'' Rosenhaus said. ``Quite frankly, he's not used to being a bench warmer and not playing and would like to go to a team where he can play.''
for a team that is finally attracting upbeat national attention. But the Cardinals have been taking it one distraction at a time this year, and they have seemed impervious to issues that might splinter other teams.
The first potential disruption came when star receiver Anquan Boldin walked into training camp in Flagstaff and lashed out at the club for failing to follow through on what he said was a promise for a new deal. A few days later, Boldin said he'd like to be traded.
Boldin's unhappiness over his contract hasn't affected his play; he leads the NFL in touchdown receptions with 10.
Then the Cardinals weathered a quarterback controversy, with Kurt Warner supplanting Matt Leinart, who entered camp as the starter.
Warner is having an MVP-type season, and Leinart, a former first-round draft pick, has dutifully accepted a backup role.
Whisenhunt said ``team chemistry'' has kept the Cardinals rolling along despite the bumps.
But some of the credit has to go to Whisenhunt, who has made it clear that he will play the most productive players regardless of where they were drafted or how much they're paid.
Graves credited Whisenhunt with creating an unselfish environment in the locker room.
``There's a feel-good feeling about not only what's going on right now, but for the future of our team,'' Graves said.
Hightower, drafted in the fifth round out of Richmond last spring, appears to be the future at running back. But he might be James' biggest fan in the locker room.
Hightower called James ``a good guy, a good teammate and a good friend, a mentor.''
``He's been supportive every step of the way,'' Hightower said. ``He's really been a big inspiration as well as a major help to me as well.''
Hightower said James has not shown his unhappiness in practice, team meetings or in the locker room.
``Everybody wants to do well and succeed, and he deserves it and he has earned it,'' Hightower said. ``But if there's any regret or any remorse at all, he doesn't show it. He does a really good job of keeping his personal feelings away from the locker room and away from this environment.''

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