Tomlinson's Days Are Numbered in San Diego

Tim PetersonCorrespondent IJanuary 7, 2010

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 13:  Running back LaDainian Tomlinson #21 of the San Diego Chargers runs the ball past Marcus Spears #96 of the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on December 13, 2009 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

On wild-card weekend, AFC West champion San Diego will be enjoying a bye week and scouting its next opponent. For LaDainian Tomlinson, he’s watching the sands of his career trickle through the proverbial hour glass. 


The sun is setting on LT’s illustrious football career, but there are still miles to go before the Chargers icon can call it a satisfying journey.


As Tomlinson & Co. ride an 11-game winning streak into the playoffs, San Diego has emerged as the vogue pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. It would be a fitting farewell for LT’s teammates to rally around him and carry the future Hall of Famer to the promise land of Miami.


Consider it payback for years of scintillating service and playoff runs cut short by those “snake bit” Schottenheimer teams or ugly defeats to the dynastic Patriots.  In other words, the Chargers owe their aging star a chance at greatness, a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy before he turns in his powder blues.


But if the Chargers are headed to the pearly gates of the big bowl, they’ll get there on the arm of Phillip Rivers and not with the legs of a rapidly aging Tomlinson.


After renegotiating a more cap-friendly contract at the beginning of this season, Tomlinson posted career lows in rushing yards (729), rushing attempts (221), average yards per attempt (3.3), pass receptions (18) and receiving yards (137).


These horrifically low numbers suggest Tomlinson's tank is nearly empty, but the main reason the 30-year-old running back won’t be back in San Diego is not so much a decline in talent, but the amount of money the Chargers can save by releasing him.


San Diego would have to pay Tomlinson a $2 million bonus if he’s on the roster this March. Additionally, the team can save a couple million bucks by not paying him his $3 million salary for 2010.


LT would still walk away with $ 1 million in guaranteed money if he’s cut, but given the upside of the economics, you can bet General Manager A.J. Smith will strongly consider waiving Tomlinson.


If the former TCU Horned Frog gets released, it's safe to assume that the rest of the AFC West will breathe a collective sigh of relief, in particular, the Oakland Raiders.Tomlinson has owned the Silver and Black over his career.


Since entering the league in 2001, LT has accounted for 28 touchdowns against the Raiders, becoming a thorn in the side of Oakland and the Raider Nation. With Tomlinson leading the way, his Chargers have carved out a record-setting 13 consecutive wins over the down-and-out Raiders.


But there’s still a huge record eluding the greatest rusher of our time. Tomlinson is still light years away from reaching Emmitt Smith’s all-time rushing record of 18,355 yards. Earlier this year the Charger running back said he wants to do the impossible, and break Smith’s record. “At the end of my career, [I don’t want to] look back and say, ‘I was this close to Emmitt’s record. Why didn’t I continue to play and try to get it?’ I don’t want to have that regret. I don’t want to have any regrets when I leave this game.” Tomlinson told the San Diego Union Tribune.


Just a few years ago, Smith’s record seemed to be within reach. But after a series of injuries and 3,400 career carries, Tomlinson is still almost 6,000 yards shy of Emmitt's all-time rushing record.