It signaled a changing of the guard with the Chargers, and quarterback Philip Rivers took over as the clear-cut leader of the team. Tomlinson was no longer the focal point of the offense, because he wasn't even around anymore. Now, Rivers is the guy, both in the huddle and the locker room.
While the Chargers prepare rookie Ryan Matthews and veteran Darren Sproles to carry the load in the running game this season, Tomlinson has engaged in a bit of a verbal spat with Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates.
It started when Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote an eye-opening piece on Aug. 1. In it, he quotes a number of current Chargers, and the overall tone is somewhat critical of Tomlinson's attitude toward the end of his tenure with the team.
"I don't know how everyone feels or if they felt it," said Rivers, who answers questions about Tomlinson the way someone walks through a minefield. "Maybe it was a little bit of a relief. Maybe it's a feeling of, 'I can do a little more without wondering what he thinks.' "Acee went on to write that Rivers began asserting himself as the team's offensive leader in January of 2008, when he shook off a torn ACL to play for the Chargers in the AFC Championship Game at New England. They lost the game, but Rivers' toughness and grit that day -- while Tomlinson sat out with a less significant injury -- was huge in the young Rivers gaining his teammates' respect.
... "Sometimes you would get the sense that people felt bigger than the team," Gates said. "Not to say it was an issue, but we know it's not an issue for sure now."
Sam Farmer of The Los Angeles Times talked to Tomlinson recently, and his reaction toward these comments is very much that of someone who feels like they were stabbed in the back.
"I thought they were my guys," Tomlinson said. "People always say, and my family has said it to me, that you know who your real friends are when you're at your lowest point and you don't have a job or whatever. And guys, they said what they felt, whether they were taking shots at me or really just saying what they felt needed to be said."The Chargers' players weren't terribly critical of Tomlinson in their comments, but Tomlinson obviously thought more of his role on the team than the team did. As Mike Florio wrote, Tomlinson seems to be guilty of developing a sense of entitlement when it comes to his place in the offense.
... "I'm not going to say I wasn't happy, but I started to see my departure out of San Diego way before you guys did," he told a reporter during a break between training-camp practices. "I could sense it. I started to make a little gripe about running the ball more, and people thought I was crazy. 'Aw, LT's complaining and whining.' But that's when I started to see what was going on."
Gone were the days where the Chargers could feed Tomlinson the ball constantly without thinking twice. He didn't make enough big plays to justify getting the ball 25-30 times per game, and Rivers' ascent to the upper tier of NFL quarterbacks was not something coach Norv Turner could ignore.
If Tomlinson was unwilling to accept a lesser role (maybe half as many touches) in the offense, he had no place in San Diego.
In a way, Tomlinson's attempt to defend himself against what he felt were unfair comments only confirms the point Rivers and Gates -- among others -- were trying to make. His former teammates indicate a feeling that Tomlinson thought he was a bit bigger than the team. Tomlinson responds by acting as if his griping about getting the ball more was somewhat justified.
Tomlinson's yards-per-carry average has steadily declined since 2006, when he averaged 5.2 yards on 348 carries. In 2009, Tomlinson's average was an anemic 3.3 yards on 223 carries. The Chargers ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing last year.
Simply put, Tomlinson may have wanted the ball more, but he had no way of justifying it, outside of a "Look what I've done for this organization" argument that makes no sense when you deal in the reality of today.
He's motivated to prove that he still has some miles left on his proverbial tires, but it's unlikely he'll ever get the kind of workload he had with the Chargers now that he plays for the Jets. He'll get the ball, but youngster Shonn Greene is the primary back with New York, and Tomlinson will be causing unnecessary trouble if he fails to understand that.