There has been some talk amongst San Diego Chargers fans these days that LaDainian Tomlinson, who is a free agent, should be brought back to the Bolts to serve as the backup RB to Ryan Mathews. Plenty of people that I've talked to think that this is a very good idea. Those people are wrong.
There's a very good reason that the Jets forced LT to restructure his contract before the 2011 NFL season and take a pay cut: He's not a very good running back anymore. This season was Tomlinson's first with less than 200 carries. He carried the ball only 75 times and still had a hard time staying healthy enough to be on the field. Compare that to the 121 carries by Mike Tolbert (who also had 12 more receptions than Tomlinson) and you can start to see why swapping Tolbert for Tomlinson might be like swapping Steve Gregory for Bob Sanders.
On that same topic of health, Ryan Mathews hasn't proven himself to be the most durable back in the NFL (yet!). Anyone playing the role of backup RB is probably getting a couple of starts for the Chargers in 2012. Tomlinson, who was used almost exclusively on passing downs for the Jets this season, can no longer handle that load.
Tomlinson rushed for 20 yards per game this season and scored 3 TDs. Tolbert ran for almost 33 yards per game and scored 10 TDs. Anyone that has closely watched Tomlinson's stint with the Jets, as I have, knows that he had flashes of "the old LT" in 2010 but was almost nonexistent in 2011. At this point, he's on an NFL roster for his blocking ability and good hands rather than any running skill. That's not exactly what the Chargers are looking for.
Mike Tolbert and Jacob Hester are both free agents this year. That leaves the Chargers without a Fullback on the roster and with only Curtis Brinkley to back up Ryan Mathews. They're going to need to retain or replace both Hester and Tolbert in terms of the running game, the passing game and Special Teams (where Hester is the captain and Tolbert might be the best player).
Tomlinson would maybe fill Tolbert's shoes in the passing game, but that would leave holes all over the rest of the roster. Even if he were to accept the veteran minimum (which I believe in $925k), he would be way more expensive than a rookie that the Chargers could draft to do essentially the same task. That's not to say the Chargers will try and replace Tolbert and/or Hester with rookies, but it would make more sense to get a one-dimensional player that is cheap and has potential to get better than to sign a one-dimensional player that is expensive and has been heading downhill for years.
People think with their heart more than their brain most of the time. Tomlinson was not well liked in the locker room, he can barely be called a running back anymore, he's expensive and he dislikes both Norv Turner and A.J. Smith. I know he is the favorite player of a lot of Chargers fans, but so was Kellen Winslow Sr. That doesn't mean Winslow show be signed this offseason to replace Randy McMichael.
The Chargers should not, and will not, bring back Tomlinson. He'll either hook on with some team and hope to not get cut in training camp (Jerry Rice with the Broncos, anyone?), or he'll call it a career. I hope, once he does that, the Chargers sign him to a one day contract so that he can retire where he started. However, any contract longer than 24 hours should be kept away from him.