After a long, brilliant career in San Diego, where LaDainian Tomlinson wrote the Chargers rushing record book in a fashion that may never be duplicated, the future Hall of Famer was finally released.
The fact is, LT and the Chargers were dancing around his age, declining play, and contract for the past two seasons. But it took his awful 2009 performance to send the final nail in the coffin.
Consider this early release a polite way of the Chargers’ brass saying “good luck” to Tomlinson, as the back was reluctant to take a pay-cut, and was even complaining about his role in the offense.
He had 243 total touches last year and was due $5 million this coming year, so it’ll be interesting what LT considers an appropriate role and compensation going forward, especially since he’s unlikely to see either of those numbers ever again.
Tomlinson is 30 and fresh off a season where he average 3.3 yards per carry, and flat-out disappeared in the playoffs for the Chargers.
On top of his clear regression, any team pondering courting him will also have to worry about the combination of his injury history in the past three years (at the end of seasons), as well as his age.
LT was a great back and is bound for the Hall of Fame. But now the question is, does he actually have a future in the NFL? And if so, where?
Well, despite claiming to still think he can be and wants to be a starter, even LT has to know that just isn’t going to happen. Even if he could be a starter, no team will pay him the money to do so, and most teams with the talent to make a run at a Super Bowl probably wouldn’t need/want him as a feature back.
Needless to say, if he plays in 2010, it’s highly unlikely he runs the ball more than 200 times, and he surely won’t be making even close to $5 million per year.
However, he used to be a stud, is a big name, and still does have great hands and a nose for the end-zone, so regardless of whether or not he is “washed up”, he will likely still get a crack at a “comeback” somewhere.
He are the top five potential suitors:
Note: If you want a nice, quick breakdown of LT’s situation and the other top nine running back’s in 2010′s free agent class, go here.
Drew Brees could be LT’s last great lobbying point for a starting gig, or at the very worst, a solid role on a Super Bowl contender. LT was stripped of his receiving workload out of the backfield last year, but he still has good hands, and would be valuable in that area in a limited role.
With Reggie Bush likely on the way out and Pierre Thomas a restricted free agent, LT could realistically land in New Orleans if his former teammate can sway the Saints’ brass.
If Drew Brees can’t (or doesn’t want to) work his magic and land LT a decent gig in New Orleans, then perhaps Bill Belichick sees there’s something left in Tomlinson’s tank.
After all, he’s gotten some grind out of Corey Dillon (and won a Super Bowl), and found minimal success last year before Fred Taylor went down.
The fact is, if there’s someone who can squeeze some talent out of LT’s aging and declining body, it’d be the Patriots.
They’re rumored to be wanting to trade Laurence Maroney, and if that happens, they’ll probably draft a runner and go with Fred Taylor as their top back-up. Even if they don’t do any of that, landing LT could be enticing.
The Lions aren’t a Super Bowl contender, and won’t be for a couple of years (if not longer), but if LT chooses money and/or playing time over winning, this could be a decent possibility.
Kevin Smith has dealt with injuries and inconsistency, and the Lions don’t have any other real plans at running back. They’ll likely draft the position in April, but that wouldn’t stop them from bringing on a veteran back.
Seattle has Julius Jones and Justin Forsett, but they’re said to be tired of Jones, and they don’t seem to be too confident that Forsett has the size or durability to be an every-down back.
They might be right, but would signing Edgerrin James 2.0 be that much better?
I actually see (and prefer) the Seahawks to just take their chances with Forsett and a new rookie back, and let Jones go, while allowing someone else land LT.
It sounds crazy, but with Chester Taylor almost surely on his way out, the Vikings will be in the market for a new back-up to Adrian Peterson. Who better than the guy he was battling for the “best back in the league” title just a few years ago?
Tomlinson is still a red-zone fiend and can catch the ball well, so he’d fit the offense, and wouldn’t take up too much of a role that would expose his flaws, but could be used enough that he’d be worth the signing.
He’s the same age as Taylor and has a lot of the same skills, but if he’s convinced he’s on his way down and can be signed cheaply in order to get Brett Favre back and run after a title, this is a possibility.
Other options: Redskins, Packers, Titans, Broncos