NFL Europe was designed for players like New England wide receiver Cedric James. Four years removed from a successful collegiate career at Texas Christian, the 6-1, 197-pound wideout has bounced around with four different NFL teams since being selected by the Vikings in the fourth round (131st overall) of the 2001 NFL draft. In that time the Texas native has seen plenty of practice reps and a few game opportunities on special teams, but as they say those opportunities have been few and far between.
That's why, after a season on the practice squad for the Patriots a year ago, James suggested he be sent to Europe this spring for some much needed game action.
"It's been four years since I played a full football game," James said recently from his hotel room in Germany. "I really felt that it would be great for me to get over to Europe and really gain some experience and get myself in that football shape again.
"I really wasn't on the [Patriots] list to be sent to NFL Europe. I don't know if they had thought about it or not, but they had their group of guys that they were sending to Europe and I wasn't a part of it. I thought it was a good idea for me to get here. I guess there are pros and cons to any big decisions that you make. I really felt that with me suggesting the idea to the Patriots, if there was a huge negative that they saw in me going to Europe I think they would have notified me. But I think they agreed and everything worked out. Getting hurt was also something that was in the back of my mind because that's something that I struggled with early in my career in the NFL, but I guess it's just a chance that you have to take coming over here to Europe."
That chance has paid off. James has been one of the most productive receivers in NFLEL this spring, working in an offense that bears a lot of similarities to the one run in New England. But despite leading NFL Europe with 515 yards receiving through eight games, James has not been content with everything he's done this spring for the 1-7 Fire.
"I think I am my worst critic," James said. "I am not satisfied. I haven't been. Consistency is the thing that I really wanted to work on as far as being a receiver. There have been several plays that I left out on the field that I should have made for this team. I always want to be the solution for this team and I felt like some of these plays that I left on the field put the team in a bad position. So I am not satisfied. I could have put up more [numbers] than I have now. That's what I am here for, to keep getting better."
But after starting eight games at wide receiver with Rhein and hauling in 29 receptions for 515 yards with five touchdowns, James does believe he is definitely a more polished pass catcher than when he stepped on the plane headed for Europe.
"I am a better player now, it's just about experience," James said. "There is no substitute for that and just being out on the field for a full game, I can't replace that with an offseason in New England."
James hopes to parlay that newfound experience into a job when he returns to the Patriots this summer. But he also realizes that even if his future isn't as a part of a crowded New England receiving corps, that the work he puts in this spring could earn him a look elsewhere in the NFL.
"I came over here to become a better football player," James said. "Of course, the film here, everybody in the NFL sees it. But I am really trying to get a foundation with the New England Patriots. I plan to showcase the things that I have learned here with New England."