LaDainian Tomlinson. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE
First, a confession. LaDainian Tomlinson is probably my favorite football player, or was. I don't know how to put it without sounding gushing, but LT came along right as I was starting to lose it as a football fan (I didn't start following the Chargers until 1998). Getting him and Drew Brees, the two guys that were so much fun to watch in college that I actually watched college football for a year, we like a dream come true. Watching him go on to have the career he had in San Diego was even better.
Second, I already kinda wrote this post. Here's what I wrote just four months ago:
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.
Many people agreed with me when I wrote that post. Then, a few things changed. Have I changed my stance? Have you?
There's another part of that post from four months ago that I'd like to highlight. Here it is (with emphases):
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.
The biggest change in this situation over the last four months is that the Chargers did not retain Mike Tolbert. They signed Jacob Hester, who will essentially serve as a backup FB and Special Teamer, and Le'Ron McClain. McClain is expected to start at FB and play a little RB as well. The team used their 7th round draft pick on Edwin Baker, signed UDFA Michael Hayes and still have Curtis Brinkley. To me, I see no names in that group that I would trust to start an NFL game should Ryan Mathews gets injured.
A.J. Smith has said that the team continues to look for a veteran free agent RB to backup Mathews, and there's still plenty out there (Ronnie Brown, Justin Forsett, Cedric Benson, Thomas Jones, etc.), but he's never said whether or not Tomlinson could be a part of that group.
I don't buy into the whole "A.J. Smith vs. LaDainian Tomlinson" storyline as everyone else does. Since when does a player sign on to a team because he prefers their GM? Since when does the GM care about anything besides wins and losses? It's a business, and both of these guys realize that.
Anyway, I think the Chargers have a hole at RB. They could use someone that has starting experience, can pass block and catch the ball, and can maybe teach Ryan Mathews some tips on holding onto the football. LT would be worth a one-year, veteran-minimum offer and a chance to beat out Baker, Brinkley and Hayes. The only question would be whether or not he'd want that offer.