Time for Chargers to Say Goodbye to LaDainian Tomlinson?
Tomlinson rushed for only 24 yards on 12 carries against the Jets. But even worse than the overall statistics was Tomlinson's lack of explosiveness. Tomlinson touched the ball 15 times on Sunday. His longest play was a five-yard run and 13 of his 15 touches went for three yards or less.
It's almost unfathomable that the Chargers will exercise the $2 million roster bonus they owe Tomlinson by March 1. Tomlinson's $2 million base salary is also too steep for a 31-year-old back coming off of a 3.3 yards per carry average this season.
The Chargers will likely take a public relations hit when they cut Tomlinson -- you can make an argument that he tops Dan Fouts for the title of best player in team history. But the Chargers actually deserve credit for giving him every chance they could to prove that he wasn't finished.
Darren Sproles was clearly the Chargers' best back over the second half of the 2008 season. And Tomlinson had limped into the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Despite that, San Diego brought LT back for 2009 and kept him as the team's primary back. It's easy to argue that Tomlinson got more carries this season than he deserved, it's hard to argue that he didn't get a fair shot.
In return, Tomlinson failed to top 100 yards rushing once this season. He had only three runs all season of more than 20 yards. By being given 220+ carries, Tomlinson did leapfrog six players to move up to eighth on the career rushing list with 12,490 yards, though seventh-place Tony Dorsett (12,739) seems a long ways away and sixth-place Eric Dickerson's 13,259 yards seems almost insurmountable.
It's likely that Tomlinson can find another team willing to give him one last chance to play -- there's actually a history of all-time great running backs catching on with another team for one last attempt to regain their greatness. But for Tony Dorsett (703 yards with the Broncos in 1988), Franco Harris (170 yards with the Seahawks in 1984) or Edgerrin James (125 yards with the Seahawks this season), you could argue that they would have been better off retiring one year earlier.
We'll find out whether that's the case with Tomlinson a year from now, but at this point, it's highly unlikely that we'll ever see him return to the greatness that made him one of the best in NFL history.