The comments on local newspaper message boards exploded with responses to stories about Tomlinson’s future. The radio sports talk shows’ phone boards lit up with angry callers.
But the drama surrounding Tomlinson is distracting Chargers fans from what they should really care about.
On Tuesday, Smith announced that the team will try to renegotiate and sign quarterback Philip Rivers to a long term contract. Rivers’ current deal ends after the 2009 NFL season. This is the contract situation that Chargers fans should be following with the most intensity.
The NFL, since the creation of the forward pass, has always been and always will be a quarterback’s league. Whether or not a team has a great quarterback directly correlates to how well that team will do.
And, in effect, after the Chargers' loss to the New England Patriots in last year’s AFC title game—a game that saw Rivers play with a torn ACL in his right knee and saw Tomlinson sit hopelessly on the bench—San Diego is now Rivers’ team. How Rivers goes, the team goes.
That holds true for any team in the league. The quarterback is the lifeblood of the team.
And as for winning a Super Bowl, more often than not, a team doesn’t need a great running back like Tomlinson to succeed.
Who did the New York Giants win with last year in the backfield? A trio of good backs. Joseph Addai isn’t the best running back in the NFL and probably isn’t in the top 10, but he still has a ring after piggy-backing on Peyton Manning’s success. Willie Parker is good, but he’s not a Hall of Famer—however, he’s got a shiny ring on his finger thanks to Ben Roethlisberger (and a really good defense).
On the flip side, there are many “greatest-of-all-time” running backs who have never won a championship. Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, O.J. Simpson, Thurman Thomas, Eric Dickerson and Barry Sanders, to name a few. All in the Hall of Fame. All with no rings.
And the great running backs that have won a championship have had a pretty good quarterback alongside with them. Tony Dorsett had Roger Staubach. Emmit Smith had Troy Aikman. Marcus Allen had Jim Plunkett. Terrell Davis had John Elway.
Whether or not the Chargers staff feels that Tomlinson is still a guy they want on their team is moot. The success of the Chargers now rides on the arm of Rivers.
Whether or not he’s back after 2009 should be the real concern with Chargers Nation. Because it wasn’t so long ago that guys named Moses Moreno, Craig Whelihan and Ryan Leaf were quarterbacking the team. And not even Tomlinson or Sayers or Sanders could lead a team to the Super Bowl with any of those guys handing the ball to them.