LaDainian Tomlinson told us yesterday that he was essentially done in a San Diego uniform.
And, if you have followed the league for a while, you expected to hear the future Hall of Famer say, “I’m not coming back, I don’t believe I’ll be back in San Diego. I’ve accepted it.”
The money is the upfront issue, as LT is owed a $2 million dollar roster bonus on March 2 and his salary for the 2010 season carries a value of $5 million.
But, the production on the field is the issue that we all know is the elephant in the room. The Chargers and LT will both use the money talk as a reason why one of the best running backs of our generation is going to be looking for work, but if you watched LT run the ball this season, the value just isn’t there.
LT will tell us different, and we should expect that from a competitive athlete at this level. You always think you can still play and still put up numbers. Even a lonely journeyman like myself said the same things at the end of my career. You convince yourself as a player that it is just age, but your body can still get it done and you can still start in this league.
However, watching LT, you and I both know better. He doesn’t have the same explosion to the second level of the defense and he doesn’t have that game-breaking ability anymore. What turned out to be a 10-to-15 yard run this season would have been a 60-yard run in the past, complete with broken tackles and lateral quickness that we usually don’t see at the running back position.
That was LT. He was a special and unique running back that was in the same mold as Marshall Faulk. A running back that could cause multiple issues for a defense from a game plan perspective. A multi-talented back that could catch the ball out of the backfield and run anywhere he wanted to on the field.
But, LT’s decline in production is natural. No different than two guys I played against in my career: Eddie George and Edgerrin James — feared in their productive years, but players who could be managed in their later years.
So, is there a place now for LT? And, does he still have value?
As a feature back, I would have to say no. But, LT can still score TDs in the red zone and he can still be a part of a backfield rotation in a place such as Seattle or Cleveland. We won’t know until after free agency and the draft which teams could use a veteran running back who can provide some touches in a game, and anything now is just speculation to get you through the final work day before Super Bowl Sunday.
LT will end up somewhere. He will look different in another uniform and he will not have that title as the feature back in a new city. However, we haven’t seen the last of him.
That is what age and hitting does to the running back position in the NFL. It eats production and it eats the value of these great players.
And, because of that, it is time for LT to move on.
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