- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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James remains a starter for the Cowboys, but as the season has progressed, his playing time has decreased and he's now sharing defensive snaps with veteran inside linebacker Keith Brooking.
"No, you don't see it [coming] because we have all the confidence in the world," James said. "We think we're still ballin', I'm in training camp rolling, running the show, the next day you know, I'm on ice. There is nothing else I can do about it but just continue to go out there and play and help everybody else."
The reason for the decline in James' playing time is the resurgence of second-year linebacker Sean Lee, who has taken over Brooking's starting job.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has elected to use James and Brooking together as a tag team of sorts.
Things are starting to change because Lee dislocated his left wrist, which could sideline him for an undetermined length of time. It is doubtful Lee will play in Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks and that would mean more snaps for James and Brooking.
James expressed surprise when told about this.
James is in an interesting position. He's led the Cowboys in tackles the last six years and is still considered the heart and soul of the Cowboys' defense. He's such a leader that he gathers the defensive players for a weekly dinner during the season.
His time with the Cowboys appears short now as he enters the final two months of his contract. He used to lead the Cowboys in their pregame hype sessions on a regular basis. He used to be nearly everything for this team. Going into the Philadelphia Eagles game last week, he started 102 consecutive games, second-most among active players at his position. Last week, that streak ended when Brooking got the call over him.
In the community, James is a saint. He created a foundation to support and devote resources to cure breast cancer in honor of his mother who died of the disease.
James is everything you want in a player on and off the field. He is someone a guy (Dez Bryant) a few lockers down from James should be calling every night to learn how to be a professional athlete.
The NFL doesn't care about that.
It's a young man's game and, at 30, James is considered old. He's in the final year of his contract and the Cowboys haven't even called his agent, Jimmy Sexton, to talk about a contract extension. Waiting in the wings is Bruce Carter, a second-round pick, who will also get some playing time Sunday.
James understands what's about to happen. He just wishes the Cowboys had spoken to him about it first.
It doesn't appear anyone on the coaching staff approached James to discuss reduced playing time. That's sad, because he deserved better.
"I mean, hey, you said it all yourself," James said. "There is nothing for me to say."
James, however, is doing the right thing. When his snaps decreased, he asked to play special teams. He also took Lee and Carter aside and showed them the ropes. While he does have an ego -- who doesn't in the NFL -- he put it aside to become a mentor to his potential replacements.
"My perspective was in order for me to have some kind of sanity, just help," James said. "My biggest thing is we've been here long enough, man. I just want to win. I don't care about whether I continue to lead the team in tackles and this or that. It doesn't even matter anymore. What matters is our legacy."
At some point this winter, the harshness of the NFL will knock on James' door again. It will tell him he needs to move on and find another job.
Sometimes that's hard.
It doesn't work for everybody.
James will get together with his wife to talk about the options. He's not ready to retire. He wants to play.
"The writing is on the wall," James said. "As soon as that happens, after the first game, the second game, the writing is on the wall. I'm a big boy, a grown man with a family. I know what time it is. I've been around, I've seen it, that's the situation."
Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.
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