While not officially confirmed yet, all signs appear to be pointed toward Ladainian Tomlinson signing with the Minnesota Vikings. The move is logical, signing a savvy vet to replace departed savvy vet Chester Taylor, but still is something of a surprise to some.
Early into the offseason Tomlinson had been pegged as probably being the last of the three axed veterans to find a home.
Thomas Jones was fresh off a 1,400 yard year and still looked like he could start for a year or two. Bryan Westbrook looked more willing to slip into a role-player category, and would meld a veteran presence with nice third-down abilities.
At first mention Tomlinson was thought to feel he still had the capacity to be a lead back somewhere for another few years. The idea that he might be unwilling to take a secondary role within a backfield led to speculation that he would be among the offseason’s later signings.
The move looks to be a good one for all parties involved.
San Diego benefits from that fact that the NFC North is about as far from the team as Tomlinson could go while still being NFL employed. Tomlinson finds himself on a quality team eyeing a run at the super bowl. Minnesota lands a player similar in many regards to the departed Chester Taylor.
Both have very similar builds, with an inch and seven pound separating them. They are good receivers who can also pick up a blitz when called upon to do so. The main difference would be Taylor’s ability to explode out of a hole a bit faster to Tomlinson’s better cutback abilities.
The team also gains a hall of fame mentor to help star Adrian Peterson refine his game. Across his career Tomlinson has only lost seven fumbles, last season the Peterson lost six.
In a reduced role the wear and tear that Tomlinson has been especially vulnerable to the last two seasons should be much less of a factor. 100 carries instead of 300 should prolong the twilight stage of his career considerably.
They also gain a back who is more accustomed to taking a full game-load should Peterson (and his contact-heavy style) miss any time to injury. By the end of the 2002 season Tomlinson already had as many career starts (32) as Taylor has across his entire career.
Playing on Astroturf is a something of a worry for a running back who has not missed many games, but spent the bulk of the last few years slowed by smaller maladies. That is one thing Minnesota will have to watch.
Tomlinson also may be something of an enigma within his role. Given that the team frequently calls upon its number-two back to step in on third down, Tomlinson lacks the traditional speed of a third-down change of pace back.
His smarts and steadiness will have to be the overriding factor to make up for the waning explosiveness. He has been one of the more successful outlet and screen-pass receiving backs in history, and could be a nice escape option for a quarterback Minnesota hopes will make good use of the dump-pass in 2010.
He may no longer be a starter, but the changing of the guard that the 2008 season appeared to signal may just be coming full circle if Ladainian Tomlinson joins the Minnesota Vikings.
If nothing else, it allows the team to boast three future hall of famers in one backfield, all with chances to go down in history as all-time greats at their position.