21 Reasons the San Diego Chargers Should Bring LaDainian Tomlinson Back
As I perused the weekly NFL story lines and waded through Matt Cassel's gripes and Peyton Manning predictions, I came upon a headline pointing out the San Diego Chargers' need for a third down back. I agreed. After all, Mike Tolbert left in free agency, and Ryan Mathews has not yet proven himself to be up to a full workload.
Then the author mentioned LaDainian Tomlinson, and my heart skipped a beat.
It had never even crossed my mind. I was so sure that he had been lost that I never thought there might be a chance to salvage him, to bring him back home.
But now there is. His tenure as a Jet has come to a close, and he waits patiently, as a free agent, for a suitor to call.
This is a direct plea to general manager A.J. Smith: Please bring back the greatest player in Charger franchise history.
I have 21 reasons why you should.
1. He Should Retire as a Charger
Let's start with the obvious.
The Chargers drafted LT in the first round of the 2001 NFL draft. He became the starting running back fresh out of college and held that position for the better part of a decade. He kept the Chargers afloat during the bad years and led them during the good ones.
I never thought he would play for another team (but then again, we all said the same thing about Peyton Manning). I don't care if he only takes one handoff again in a powder blue uniform; he deserves to retire a Charger.
2. Everyone Hates the Jets
On the flip side, if we fail to bring him back, he will likely retire this offseason as a Jet.
You could not pick a worse team. No, not even the Raiders.
The Jets made a quick ascent to the top of my Most Hated list in the last decade, twice eliminating the Chargers from the playoffs and being all too quick to lap up our sloppy seconds (players LT and Antonio Cromartie and passed-on coach Rex Ryan).
I hope that A.J. Smith will not stand idly by and allow the greatest player in our franchise history to be engulfed by Gang Green.
3. His Illustrious Career
Do you know how many different NFL records LT holds? A lot, more than you would think.
Let me just list a few: rushing touchdowns in a season (28), total touchdowns in a season (31), most points scored in a season (186), most games with three or more touchdowns (12) and most consecutive games with a rushing touchdown (18).
In addition, he is a five-time pro bowler and a four-time first-team all-pro. He led the NFL in rushing twice and won the NFL MVP award in 2006. He is one of only 26 men in the 10,000 yard club and currently sits at number five on the all-time rushing list.
4. Number Four All-Time Rusher?
LaDainian Tomlinson is the only active player in the top 20 of all-time rushers (Thomas Jones is still kicking at No. 22).
Now, I'm not going to be unreasonable and say that LT has enough time left to reach the top of that list. Emmitt Smith has a 4,700 yard cushion on him, and that would take another three or four years at his prime for Tomlinson to erase.
Likewise, spots two and three (occupied by Walton Payton and Barry Sanders) also seem too far away—3,000 and 1,600 yards, respectively.
Curtis Martin sits only 427 yards ahead of him. I believe he could accumulate 427 yards in the 2012 season. Wouldn't that make it worth it? Wouldn't it be fun to watch him chase the number four spot?
5. He Can Mentor Ryan Mathews
Drafted in the first round two years ago, Chargers starting running back Ryan Mathews has not quite yet reached the height we thought he might achieve. He quietly had 1,000 rushing yards last season and finished in the top 10 in that category.
Keep in mind that Mike Tolbert took a large chunk of carries away from him, totaling almost 500 yards and eight touchdowns.
With Tolbert gone, Mathews should start to take on a more pronounced role. And who better to help him with that situation than one of the 10 greatest running backs of all time? It would be like a Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers type of thing. That turned out pretty well.
6. He Can Help Lessen the Blow When Ryan Mathews Inevitably Gets Injured
Now just in case that last one doesn't quite work out, LT will be ready to help when Mathews pulls his hamstring or sprains his ankle. Mathews has not suffered a major injury thus far but has failed to be healthy for all 16 games in either of the last two seasons.
As far as I know, the only backups currently on the squad are Curtis Brinkley and Edwin Baker, the latter being drafted in Round 7 this year. If Mathews goes down for one, two or 14 games this season, I would like to know that the team has an option with at least some experience.
7. He Is a Great Blocker
The Chargers had massive problems along the offensive line last year.
Injury after injury forced the management to scrape the bottom of the lineman barrel. In the mid and late season, it was a motley crew indeed. At one point, the Chargers even picked up 26-year-old Jared Gaither, who had just been cut by the Chiefs.
Tomlinson was a great blocker during his time in San Diego, and a good blocker in the lineup on third down passing plays could make a huge difference for Philip Rivers and the receivers.
8. He Is a Great Receiver
Here's a little statistic for you.
Ryan Mathews had 455 receiving yards last season as the starting running back on a pass-heavy offense. LaDainian Tomlinson had 449 receiving yards last season as the backup running back on a ground-and-pound offense whose quarterback was Mark Sanchez.
9. He Still Has Something in the Tank
He is 32 years old, which is old for a running back, but he's not utterly worthless.
914 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 2010. The aforementioned 449 receiving yards, plus two touchdowns in 2011. 29 combined games in two seasons.
Emmitt Smith played until he was 35. Walter Payton retired at 33. There could a decent season or two left for LT.
10. San Diego Has Not Been to the Playoffs Since His Departure
With LT on the team, the Chargers made playoff appearances in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. Following the 2009 playoff loss to the New York Jets, the Chargers chose not to extend LT's contract.
Since then, they have had back-to-back disappointing seasons, falling just short of the postseason both years. Now, I am not superstitious (I'm just a little 'stitious), but is it possible that we are experiencing a little football karma here?
Perhaps reuniting LT with the team will realign the universe and allow the Chargers back into the playoffs.
11. Rivers Wants Him
Months ago, Philip Rivers held a press conference and voiced his support for head coach Norv Turner. At the time, everyone believed that Turner would be fired after underachieving yet again in 2011. But then he didn't get fired, and I have to believe that Rivers' testimony was a major factor.
Recently, Rivers said that he would welcome Tomlinson back to San Diego, that he loves LT and that he would have no objections whatsoever if this was an option being considered by management.
They have listened to him once already.
12. He Came Back for Junior Seau's Memorial
A touching moment and a huge ovation for Tomlinson who returned to San Diego for the celebration of Seau's life and career. He still has ties to the team and the community, and the fans were all too happy to see him back—wearing a powder blue sweater, might I add.
13. He Would Sell Tickets
If we consider all other things to be equal, why wouldn't the addition of LT be good for business? Do you think any fans would be unhappy, so unhappy that they would refuse to buy or use season tickets, if he came back?
Fans would love one last chance to see LT in Charger blue, a chance many of them probably thought they would never have again. Hopefully, we could get enough nostalgic fans to buy tickets to avoid those obnoxious blackouts.
Or we can move to LA.
14. His Contract Would Be Cheap
The veteran minimum salary for a player in his 10th season or higher is $925,000. Are you going to tell me that the Chargers don't have $1 million for one year of LaDainian Tomlinson? Do you really think LT would ask for much more?
Joseph Addai got $1 million for a year in New England. Brandon Jacobs got $1.5 million from San Francisco. Rock Cartwright got $950,000. I don't feel like it would be ridiculous to spend the same amount on LT.
15. Very Little Risk
What is the absolute worst-case scenario here? LT suffers a season-ending injury in preseason, he chooses to retire as a Charger, and we lose $1 million just for this year.
Whereas the best-case scenario involves LT raising Mathews' game play, helping out in blocking and receiving on key third downs and propelling the Chargers deep into the playoffs.
Maybe my best-case scenario is a bit of wishful thinking, but still. This isn't a six-year contract that will kill our cap space for the next decade.
Just one year, one shot, one last go-around.
16. Knowledge of Jets Playbook
As fate would have it, the Chargers will play my "favorite" team again this year. But LT could provide some insight into their playbook this time—or at least into the inner musings of mastermind Rex Ryan.
Yes, the Jets will have changed things up in the offseason, but unless you think Tim Tebow is going to see major time at the QB spot (doubtful), how complicated can a Mark Sanchez offense be made?
17. He Has the Chargers Logo Tattooed on His Leg
Clearly, he misses us.
18. More Oggi's Commercials
It's funny because it's true.
19. He Could Try to Break Tim Tebow's "Excited to Be Here" Record
Also funny because it's true.
20. His Patented Touchdown Celebration
This is not a touchdown dance; it is a celebration. Dances are beneath LaDainian Tomlinson. He will leave them to the artist formerly known as Chad Eight Five.
I always felt that LT's was the most classy of all TD celebrations. He leans back slightly, places a hand behind his head—as if splayed out on one of San Diego's many wonderful beaches—and flips the ball out of his hand, just ever so slightly.
At the very least, it is better than what Ryan Mathews had to offer me...
21. My Jersey
Lastly, and most importantly, A.J. Smith needs to bring back Tomlinson because I have recently been relieved of the last wearable Chargers jersey I own.
I have three Chargers jerseys in my closet. The first is a small, dark blue Doug Flutie jersey my mom probably bought me when I was 10. The second is a dark blue Vincent Jackson jersey I received as a gift just a couple years ago. And the last, of course, is a powder blue LaDainian Tomlinson jersey that I bought some years ago.
I can no longer fit into my tiny Doug Flutie jersey. My Vincent Jackson jersey will be on a temporary hiatus, probably until he retires. And my LT jersey has been collecting dust for a couple years, and there is no way I can wear it while he remains on a different team.
Please, A.J. Smith, I want to wear my jersey again. I want to root for him again. I want to watch him chase Curtis Martin. I want to see him in on third downs. I want to see him throw one more touchdown pass to Antonio Gates. I want it all, A.J. Smith.
And I want it now.