Following a departure from the San Diego Chargers that alternated between bittersweet (tearful press conference) and contentious (radio interview), LaDainian Tomlinson has now signed with the New York Jets.
The Jets landed the 30-year-old future Hall of Famer with a two-year, $5.2 million contract and the promise of a superior run-blocking offensive line.
It does ruffle some feathers on both sides of the deal, however, and is an interesting move on the heels of Tomlinson's visit to Minnesota.
On the Jets' end, they signed Tomlinson after cutting veteran running back Thomas Jones. What makes that interesting is the 1,400-yard season Jones put up in 2009 while leading the NFL’s top-ranked rushing attack.
A mediocre playoffs by Jones coupled with a strong surge by Shonn Greene led to an offseason changing of the guard between Greene and Jones for the lead role. The move to replace Jones with Tomlinson gives New York a similar vet who enters into the equation with his role spelled out. That eliminates the chance that Greene’s promotion could make for a contentious backfield.
Jones has since moved on to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs as part of a backfield duo with up-and-coming speedster Jamaal Charles.
From Tomlinson’s end, the move is interesting as well. It is obvious that he wanted to go to a contending club, and his star still had enough clout to make that a possibility.
With at least two public choices in the Jets and Minnesota Vikings, Tomlinson elected to go with the surprising Jets despite the fact that Minnesota was one turnover away from the Super Bowl last season.
The Jets backfield now comprises Greene and Tomlinson, and (presumably) Leon Washington, the team's smaller, shiftier back who is presently a restricted free agent.
When Tomlinson went on (identify radio station here) a few weeks before San Diego cut the former face of the Chargers, he outlined a few concerns that were going to make his departure imminent.
The first was that he was unwilling to negotiate a pay cut with San Diego. He was due over $5 million in salary, which would have to keep firm in order for him to stay on the team.
He also added that in his mind he was still a primary back, with two or three years worth of featured-back duty left in him. Finally, he went on record with complaints about San Diego’s current locker room, and the disconnect between himself and the rest of the team.
With those comments in mind (somewhat assuaged by a tearful and respectful parting press conference), Tomlinson ventured forth onto the open market to find a home.
What he found was a contract that gave him roughly half the annual pay that Tomlinson was unwilling to negotiate down with the San Diego Chargers.
He also becomes one of two (assuming Washington is re-signed) secondary backs in the Jets offense. Washington’s speed makes him the ideal third-down back, while Greene’s size and power make a goal-line back unnecessary.
Unless Washington is signed elsewhere, Tomlinson is looking at select duty, mostly to reduce Greene’s carries, rather than falling into a set role.
Had he signed with Minnesota, he likely would have ended up primarily as a third-down back, quite similar to Chester Taylor. Acceptance of that role would mean a much better guarantee at getting consistent snaps, even if it meant fewer carries overall.
The final piece of the puzzle is the presence of Antonio Cromartie, considered San Diego’s worst locker-room presence.
The attitude and off-field concerns of Cromartie were as big a factor as his failure to make good on potential hinted at in a tremendous 2007 campaign in getting the young Pro Bowl corner traded.
Upon signing with the Jets, Cromartie was forced to ask for a $500,000 advance to his 2010 salary in order to pay rising costs of seven children's (in five states) worth of child support.
Minnesota would also have been a safer locale for Tomlinson to have his job still secure in 2011. Chester Taylor was allowed to sign with Chicago because he was a free agent that Minnesota elected not to sign because they didn’t want to keep up with Chicago’s $12.5 million contract offer. He was not overtly cut from the team.
The Jets, however, severed ties with Thomas Jones because they felt ready for Greene to take over and did not want to maintain a contract with the 2009 starter. If Greene and Washington both perform well as a tandem, it is quite likely Tomlinson will be cut after one season.
Given that possibility, it is unfortunate that Charger fans may have to see Tomlinson suffer the waning career that befell many other fading superstars.
For all these reasons, and the bitter pill that is his signing with the team that eliminated San Diego last season (making it second only to in-division rivals for kick-in-the-gut status), Tomlinson’s decision to sign with the Jets doesn’t have the satisfactory feel that a Minnesota signing would have.
All wish him well with his new team, but signing with a major AFC threat now prevents us from wishing him too well. For that, this appears to be the final unfortunate phase in an already unpleasant ordeal surrounding Tomlinson’s departure.