FLOWERY BRANCH - You can feel sorry for T.J. Duckett, at least as sorry as you can for someone who makes more than a million dollars annually to carry a football a handful of times 16 Sundays and Mondays each fall.
He is the rare first-round draft pick who has flopped through no fault of his own. He came to the Atlanta Falcons in 2002 hoping to quickly become the feature back, the battering ram to Michael Vick's sleight of hand.
Instead he is the afterthought of the DVD rushing attack. Warrick Dunn, the first D in DVD and the feature back when the Falcons drafted Duckett, has gotten better with age. He's rushed for 1,000 yards the last three seasons. Vick - V in DVD - has cut back on his running but still out-rushed Duckett the last two years.
Duckett has handled it with grace. He has never bad-mouthed Dunn or complained publicly about playing time. Ask him directly if he'd like more carries, and he will say yes, of course, but he will always defer to what's best for the team.
What's best for the Falcons right now - and for Duckett too - is to deal him.
Duckett opened the final year of his contract in the Falcons' post-draft minicamp over the weekend. As usual, his spirits were high. He stuck around to autograph every fan's photo or football and answer every reporter's question, even those about his future.
Yet it is obvious he understands his situation. The Falcons used their second pick in last month's draft to select a tailback, Jerious Norwood. Dunn recently signed a contract extension that will keep him in Atlanta for another two years.
Plus, Atlanta continues to expand its West Coast-style offense. The scheme already relegated Duckett mainly to short-yardage and goal-line situations. Sure, he'd play every fourth series or so to give Dunn a break, but his main role was to use his 250 pounds to pick up that hard yard or two.
The Falcons have too many other options to spend the millions it will take to keep Duckett. Norwood can spell Dunn, and fullback Justin Griffith can lineup at tailback behind Fred McCrary on short-yardage.
Duckett is a bargain right now - he will make $663,000 this season - but will command a good salary on the free-agent market next spring. He is a 25-year-old veteran with low-mileage legs and little wear-and-tear on his body.
Duckett says he wants to stay with the Falcons. He won't be bothered by his contract status or any trade rumors.
"Those are things I can't control," Duckett said.
He is focused instead on working out and slimming down, proving that his reputation for laziness in the offseason is unfounded.