by Michael Lombardi
February 23, 02010
QUOTE: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” -- Cyril Connolly
For me, the hardest thing to do as an NFL executive is to say goodbye to a veteran player, especially when that player thinks he’s still competing at a high level. It’s hard to say goodbye to someone who has done so much for a team and has been part of the fabric of the team, but time is not always a friend to players, and as we all know, nothing lasts forever.
Often times when a veteran is released, no one wants to look like the bad guy. So every time the player talks to coaches or scouts in the organization, they attempt to absolve themselves from having a part in the decision. Even the position coach will plead innocence because he wants to have a long-term personal relationship with the player and would never want the player to view him as disloyal. Yet deep down, the position coach doesn’t want a high-profile player upset with him in case he eventually chases a head coaching job. Remember, getting promoted in the NFL has more to do with perception than reality, and having support from high-profile players is needed. As a result, many of these decisions are like orphans -- they have no one claiming responsibility.
In San Diego, however, everyone in the organization appeared to be unified with the decision Monday to release LaDainian Tomlinson. It was so obvious to all that this was not a hard “football decision” but rather a sensitive decision to make sure Tomlinson was treated with the respect and dignity he deserved for his service to the Chargers. LT will always be a Charger and will always be a part of their family, but his time as a full-time starting football player appears over. And what the Chargers did for LT is allow him to be in the market place at the right time to continue chasing his dream of being a starter.
Now, the next question is, where will he land? That question is asked as if LT is still LT – although if he were, he would not be free. He’s been released by a team that’s not trying to give playing time to a young player but rather by a team that needs a running back. So finding a full-time job next year will be tough. I’ve heard the Houston Texans would be perfect for him. Please. The Texans want a full-time running back who can carry the ball more than 300 times a year, someone with the ability to break tackles with his lower body. That was LT then, but it’s not LT now.
The team that goes after LT will be one that might be looking for a nickel back, a third-down back who can protect, who can catch the ball and who can run routes — not a team that’s looking for a back to carry the load. LT is a competitive player, and he’s never going to admit that his career needs to shift from a starter to a support player. But if this never happens, he’ll have a difficult time getting work. He wants to play for a winner, a team that has the potential to get to the Super Bowl, but he must first redefine his own expectations before he starts to look for a job. And he must also lower his financial demands because he’s not going to command a huge salary or generate the leverage he needs to gain significant money.
I hate to be the voice of doom and gloom when it comes to veteran players, especially one as great as LT, but the NFL, as former Houston Oilers head coach Jerry Glanville once told an official, stands for Not For Long.
No one can play forever. I sincerely hope LT lowers his expectations and redefines his role.
Julius Peppers free
As I said on NFL Network Total Access last night, the word around the league is that Julius Peppers will indeed become a free agent this year, and many teams are having a tough time determining what it will cost to secure his rights. Peppers won’t make $16.6 million as a base salary next season, but he’ll make a huge sum over the length of the deal. He’s made a fortune over the past two years and will make great money in his new contract, but more than money, now he can pick the scheme and the team. Because of the past contracts that have been enormous, Peppers has never been paid based on the true marketplace -- he was first paid based on a great rookie deal and then the franchise tag. So money should not be the motivating factor, at least you would think.
Winning should matter to Peppers, and being close to North Carolina will be important, considering that he has never left the state from college to the pros. So as much as getting away might be appealing, I doubt he would go farther than a direct flight to Carolina. My earlier leaders for his rights are still the Eagles and Patriots, teams that never mind paying for quality and need to add a blue chip player to their defense.
Based on yesterday, one thing is for sure: With the draft and free agency looming, the next few months will be very interesting.
Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi
Check out the NFP's 2010 Draft Central for in-depth coverage leading up to the draft.
For a glance at five potential suitors for the services of LT, check out this article from Bleacher Report.