Hock's Take: LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Wesbrook Add Mystery to the Offseason

Matthew HockingCorrespondent IFebruary 26, 2010

SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 17:  Running back LaDainian Tomlinson #21 of the San Diego Chargers warms up on the field prior to the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the New York Jets at Qualcomm Stadium on January 17, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The offseason has barely started, but already there’s some excitement brewing with two of the NFL’s longest tenured running backs being cut loose from their respective teams.

The releases of LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook has set off a firestorm of rumors and speculation about where the two backs might end up next year. Both have a little gas left in the tank, so it’s just a matter of finding the right team for their skill sets.

The Vikings have come up in a lot of discussions about where Tomlinson and Westbrook might wind up. And it makes a lot of sense. With Chester Taylor a free agent as well this season, picking up a new experienced running back to back up Adrian Peterson would make a lot of sense.

Tomlinson would seem the early front runner. He has a more robust resume than Westbrook, and honestly probably has more to teach Adrian Peterson about being a long-term back in the league, and he’s got more value as a straight back if Peterson gets hurt.

But of the two, Tomlinson probably has the least left in him. His numbers are on a steeper decline, and given that he’s more identifiable media-wise, he’d probably command a higher price tag than Westbrook.

Westbrook, on the other hand, seems to fit the Vikings like a glove. On paper.

He already has a good working relationship with Brad Childress, he’s a fantastic receiver out of the backfield, something the Vikings desperately need, and he only has 12 fumbles in his career, something that Peterson seriously needs a mentor on.

The problem with Westbrook, of course, is that part of the reason he has so few fumbles is that he’s never played a full season in his career. His best season was in 2007, when he only managed to miss one game.

How many times over the years have the words, “If Brian Westbrook was healthy….” been uttered? And now, at 30, they take an even bigger toll. He’d have a seriously reduced workload in Minnesota, which would help, but if Peterson does go down at some point, you can’t trust Westbrook to be a feature back.

One option to consider, of course, is keeping Chester Taylor. Taylor’s stock has dropped dramatically in the past week. With two more proven backs hitting the market suddenly ahead of him, teams might not want to take a chance on Taylor, who is younger but really isn’t more than a serviceable starter.

Taylor’s proven himself as the Viking’s backup, a great blocker and pass catcher who will pick up yards on draws and who can spell Peterson quite well. Everybody knows that he had a really good 1,200 yard season a few years ago.

But that was a few years ago, and I think Taylor’s regressed back into a really good back-up. Really good, but there aren’t that many teams looking to pay a lot for a starting running back right now, and if they do, they’re going to want someone more proven than Taylor.

The interesting thing in this situation is that, since they made the NFC Championship game, the Vikings can’t even talk to Taylor until 28 other teams have had a crack at him. But they can, and should, talk to Westbrook and Tomlinson right away.

In a perfect world, the Vikings would be able to get Tomlinson, who would be a perfect compliment to Peterson in the passing game and a great weapon for Brett Favre (should he come back, which I think he will).

I think Westbrook is far more likely, however. As a veteran, and one who has spent so much time on the shelf in his career, he’s going to be looking for familiarity and comfort. Brad Childress brings that, and I think Childress misses having Westbrook catching outlet passes.

Taylor is probably the best bet to end up in a Vikings uniform. I know he wants to get away from AD’s shadow and be a starting back in the league, and I think he has the talent to do so. But an uneven season in 2009, followed by the release of two legitimate (former) superstar backs, takes Taylor off a lot of team’s radar, and I’m afraid he might get stuck with the back-up tag for the rest of his career.

The person I feel the worst for in all this is Albert Young, who I’ve completely ignored this article. But let’s face it, his name doesn’t really inspire much confidence. I’m just kidding, Albert, I love you. But I don’t think you have as much to add to the table as these three guys.

Whatever way the Vikings go, 2010 is shaping up to be an interesting season. Back-up running back is probably not high on the people at Winter Park’s mind, certainly not above starting quarterback and corner, but it’s not often you get to fill a minor hole with a major piece, and the Vikings should at least take a look at a unique opportunity.