LaDainian Tomlinson has been as sure a thing in San Diego, as cerveza at a Mexican barbecue.
Irreplaceable. Consistent. Committed.
Words that come to mind when talking of the 2006 Most Valuable Player.
Tomlinson has been a rock for the organization and the face of the franchise for eight seasons. Even after his productive years, speculation has risen in San Diego that a change may be made this offseason.
In 2001, the Chargers bought low by drafting the raw talent out of Texas Christian University and in 2009 may sell high.
History has proven that running backs have the shortest life span on the football field. And it is fair to say that LT’s best days are behind him.
Until this season, Tomlinson has started every game the Chargers have played since 2001. He has played through bumps and bruises and performed at a high level.
As he has aged, Tomlinson has become more injury-prone. Last postseason, he endured a knee injury, which resulted in him being sidelined for the second half of the Patriots game.
This season he battled a toe and most recently, a torn groin tendon. This year, Tomlinson will reach the ripe age of 30.
In 2006, Tomlinson re-wrote history by setting the All-Time Single Season Touchdown record of 31, a record that was previously set by Shaun Alexander, one year prior.
After Alexander’s remarkable campaign, he has never been the same. He fractured his foot in ’06 and was released by the Seattle Seahawks in ’07. He was signed this year by the Washington Redskins and only had 11 rushing attempts for 24 yards.
This is a small example to a large testament of how the production of an NFL running back can fall precipitously.
Between 2004 and 2006, Rudi Johnson averaged nearly 1,400 yards a season and had a total of 36 touchdowns.
He was a consensus choice for one of the best running backs in the league, but eventually became a victim to lack of production. In the last two seasons, he has averaged just over 300 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.
Hall of Famer Marcus Allen never had a 1,000-yard season after the age of 30. Although he was a productive player for the teams he played for, he was never able carry the load single-handedly.
Priest Holmes, Emmitt Smith, and Marshall Faulk in their last three seasons, never reached 1,000 yards.
Running backs take hundreds of bone-crunching hits each season. They train to prepare their body for the beating, but nothing can compare for the impact they take.
Also, this position has become easily replaceable, which has led to the demise of many backs. The position is maybe the simplest for talented college players to transition into.
Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson, and Chris Johnson have had remarkable success without skipping a beat. They have proven that any GM can find young, productive runners for a reasonable price at the draft.
Tomlinson is scheduled to earn $8.8 million next season. An investment that is very reasonable for a Pro Bowl caliber back, but Tomlinson has slightly lost his step.
He has been plagued by injury and even while playing healthy he doesn’t seem to have the explosiveness he once had.
The Chargers are at a crossing road.
They have the off-season to decide to part with the former All-Pro, renegotiate his contract, or settle for sub-par play at a hefty price.