Quarterback Tony Graziani has enjoyed two productive seasons with the Soul, but, fair or not, his contribution always will be weighed against his salary.

In the Arena Football League, which has a salary cap of less than $2 million per team, Graziani is in the final season of a three-year, $750,000 deal.

Despite an injured finger and hamstring that cost him most of five games last year, Graziani threw 40 touchdown passes and just 11 interceptions in guiding the Soul to their first playoff appearance and postseason victory.

Still, the expectations are higher this year, not just from the owner's box but from Graziani himself. Although the Soul have a new receiving corps and several key defensive additions, Graziani's play will determine whether the team's fourth season in Philadelphia will end with postseason success.

During the off-season, the team's majority owner, Jon Bon Jovi, flew with coach Bret Munsey and general manager Rich Lisk to Los Angeles to talk with the 33-year-old quarterback about the past and the future.

"He is the highest-paid player in Arena Football League history, and he knows that we are resting the future on him," Bon Jovi said. "This is the third year of a three-year deal, and I am counting on him."

That point, along with Bon Jovi's request that Graziani take a more active leadership role, was relayed during their meeting.

"I told him how happy I was with his toughness," Bon Jovi said. "I have no qualms with that, but I asked him to be more of a leader in the locker room and off the field."

Graziani said he had enjoyed his stay in Philadelphia and would love to return beyond this year, but contract negotiations have not begun.

Graziani's statistics with the Los Angeles Avengers in 2004 - he threw 99 touchdown passes with just five interceptions - led to the contract and the high expectations.

In his first year with the Soul, he threw 90 TD passes but was picked off 15 times for a 6-10 team.

Last year, the Soul went 9-7. They won at Austin in the first round of the playoffs before losing, 31-27, in the second round at Orlando.

That game ended when Graziani fumbled on the game's final play - second and goal from the Orlando 3-yard line.

"That play is going to haunt me forever," said Graziani, a former member of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons who is in his seventh AFL season. "I should have thrown the ball away, but I was trying to make a play."

Nobody is harder on himself than Graziani about his two seasons with the Soul.

"It's been good and bad," he said yesterday. ". . . I thought the last four games, when I came back from the hamstring, I was probably playing as well as I have my whole career, and I look forward to carrying that over this year."

From one former quarterback to another, Soul president Ron Jaworski, like the rest of the organization, envisions big things by Graziani.

"I think he is the best quarterback in the game," the former Eagles quarterback said. "He has had an outstanding training camp and has never looked better."

Notes. The Soul have a bye the first week of the season and will open March 9 at Nashville. . . . Last night, the Soul beat the New York Dragons, 62-26, in a scrimmage at the Wachovia Spectrum. Former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil was watching. . . . Bon Jovi and co-owner Craig Spencer visited The Inquirer and Daily News offices yesterday, meeting with publisher Brian Tierney. When Bon Jovi saw a picture of Wilt Chamberlain in The Inquirer's sports department, he said, "I was born the day he scored 100 points." Yes, Chamberlain's 100-point game for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks was on March 2, 1962. . . . The home opener for the Soul, who will be on the road for six of their first eight games, will be March 22 against the Colorado Crush.

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.