Shutdown Corner - NFL

January 18, 2010

LaDainian Tomlinson: Now what?

LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) didn't contribute much to the Chargers yesterday, unless the Chargers happen to enjoy 3rd and 8 (they probably don't). His performance didn't deviate much from what he gave the Chargers all season long: very short runs, no matter the circumstances.

Thus, the Chargers are looking at another offseason where Tomlinson's future dominates local headlines. He's due a roster bonus of $2 million, and the Chargers can save $4 million by cutting him. It would be hard for anyone to argue that Tomlinson's contributions this season were worth much more than the price of a Snuggie.

So what are the Chargers supposed to do with him? Let's take a look at their options.

1) See if he can kick. Specifically, in January. If he can, make his first target the undercarriage of Nate Kaeding(notes).

2) Say goodbye and cut him. If I had to guess, I'd say this is the most likely option. Before that happens, though, it's worth asking the following question: Who was worse this year, Tomlinson or the Chargers' run blocking? The Chargers coaching staff knows the answer to this better than anyone, so I hope they're honest with themselves. It's easy to point the finger at Tomlinson, but when anyone else got a chance, they didn't do much better. Tomlinson averaged 3.3 yards per carry, Darren Sproles(notes) 3.7, and Michael Bennett 2.8. According to the DYAR and DVOA numbers at Football Outsiders, Tomlinson was actually the best (or least terrible) of the three.

3) Improve the offensive line and bring him back for another go. Looking at Football Outsiders numbers again, the San Diego offensive line, in terms of run blocking, was 18th in the league, and yet, the Chargers finished last in the league in yards-per-carry. The Bolts' run blockers ranked ahead of teams like the Vikings and Titans, and if I'm not mistaken, those two teams produced pretty decent runners, did they not? For whatever little its worth, my half-hearted eyeball test agrees that the line wasn't good, but wasn't terrible, either.

4) Bring him back only if he'll agree to a pay-cut and back-up role. Pride, ego and a lot of other things stand in the way here, but it makes sense for everyone involved. Tomlinson's got to realize that no one else out there is going to just hand him a starting job, and it wouldn't hurt the Chargers to keep a beloved franchise hero around as long as they can. Of course, in that department, Tomlinson may have done the Chargers a favor yesterday. At this point last year, the fans universally wanted Tomlinson back. After yesterday, I think they'd be a bit more, um, understanding, if he were to be let go.

Most likely, before Week 1 of the 2010 regular season, it won't be LaDainian Tomlinson's name atop the Chargers running back depth chart. Whether he wants to appear below that name, or on someone else's depth chart, he'll have to figure out.

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