by Tommy Lawlor
The Chargers have released LaDainian Tomlinson. Several years ago this would have been unthinkable. LT was the heart and soul of the team. He was on the way to breaking Emmitt Smith’s career rushing record. LT was a workhorse runner with big play ability. He was a true franchise RB.
But something funny happened on the way to the forum. Father time paid a visit to LT ahead of schedule and the elite runner became a mere mortal. And then some. In the last 2 years LT has averaged 3.8 ypc and 3.3 ypc. He has 515 carries in that span, but only 9 runs of more than 20 yards.
Thomas Jones is also an older workhorse RB. He does play behind one of the best O-lines in the league, but Jones still is a good point of comparison. Jones has 621 carries in the last 2 years. He’s had 14 runs of 20 or more yards. Jones averaged 4.5 and 4.2 ypc in those seasons. These numbers are a bit surprising when you consider that Tomlinson plays on a dynamic offense that can throw the ball and really stretch the defense while Jones spent this year with a rookie QB and limited passing attack. Jones saw a ton of 8-man fronts.
LT still has something in the tank, but I hope no one thinks of him as a starting RB anymore. He is now at the point in his career when you look at him as a role player. He did score 23 TDs over the last couple of years. I think a team looking for a goal line runner and veteran backup should be interested.
The question I have is whether LT can accept a role like this. Over the last 2 years Tomlinson still seemed to think of himself as “the guy”. Any team he joins from this point on will be bringing him in as a pinch hitter and not the star slugger. LT has to acknowledge and accept that fact or he’ll be miserable wherever he goes.
The second issue is how many teams will have interest? No one will pay him big money. Teams looking at him as a role player will have concerns. They can’t use him on STs. What about durability? LT has only missed 2 games in the last few years, but he has hardly been healthy. Is that likely to improve now that he’s another year older?
I think someone will give LT a chance in 2010, but it won’t shock me if that is his final season in the NFL. We saw Emmitt Smith, Eddie George, and Shaun Alexander each fade quickly. I hope LT isn’t on the same path, but I’m not optimistic at this point.