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LaDainian Tomlinson Released by San Diego Chargers: What's Next?

Mihir Bhagat@mihirbhagatSenior Analyst IIIFebruary 23, 2010

LaDainian Tomlinson, the fifth overall pick in the 2001 draft, was officially released by the San Diego Chargers today after nine unbelievably productive seasons.

Tomlinson rushed for 12,490 yards and 138 touchdowns during his tenure in San Diego. He was also very effective in the passing game, recording 3,955 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns.  

From 2002-2007, No. 21 was widely considered one of the best players in football.

However, primarily due to several nagging injuries, Tomlinson’s production has been on a rapid downturn lately.

Many have expected the organization to cut ties with Tomlinson for a while now. It seems most likely that the move was for financial reasons. Moreover, Tomlinson is at an age (30) where most running backs' NFL careers seem to be winding down.

When asked about his future, the five-time Pro Bowler released this statement to SI.com : “The main thing for me now is to try to win a championship. That’s my number one goal. That’s why I still work hard and train like I do, because I still believe there’s a chance of winning that championship. So the next team I go to has to have a chance of winning a title. I can think of a few teams off the top of my head, but that’s what my agent is for. I’m sure he’s going to do some research, talk to some teams and present some options to me.”

After receiving the news of Tomlinson’s departure, I began to ponder what lies ahead for both him and the Chargers.

As for San Diego, even with the 2006 MVP last season, the team ranked last in the league in yards-per-carry, with 3.3.

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The only legitimate running back left on the roster is Darren Sproles, who is set to be a free agent this offseason.

Sproles brings versatility and explosiveness to the table, but has been unable to demonstrate that he can be anything more than a change-of-pace back.

In order to be successful, the Chargers will need to add a player who can consistently carry a majority of the load and be a between-the-tackles, bruising type of back.

It doesn’t appear that the team will have a plethora of options. 

Drafting at 28th, there most likely won’t be much available in the first round, so it would be wise to use the selection to fill one of their other voids. 

Like many other teams have done in the past, they may be able to find talent later, in possibly rounds two through four. A player like Jonathon Dwyer, Ryan Matthews, or even LeGarrette Blount could be worth taking a look at.

Yet another option may be for General Manager A.J. Smith to pull off a creative trade. 

It is known that Pro Bowl CB Antonio Cromartie is on the trading block, and he could very likely be valuable trading bait in executing a deal.

A player I would consider is Marshawn Lynch.

He’s a fairly young player, is physical, and has been very productive. Due to character issues, the Chargers may be able to get the former first rounder for a discount.

Other options may include Laurence Maroney (Patriots), Justin Forsett (Seahawks), or even Clinton Portis (Redskins).

At the end of the day, though, the best fit (and most likely scenario) would be signing free agent Chester Taylor.

Even though Taylor is 31 years old, he has spent the last few seasons sharing time with Adrian Peterson. He is talented, has fresh legs, and would complement Sproles nicely.

Whatever the Chargers decide to do, they must be proactive and significantly bolster their rushing attack if they want to have a chance at competing for the Lombardi Trophy moving forward.

As for L.T., despite, obviously, not being the same player he once was, I still think he has some gas left in the tank. He can be effective for some team in the NFL. The question is, who?

In my mind, his best option seems to be the Philadelphia Eagles.

Philadelphia is in desperate need of some depth and security at running back, so they could definitely use Tomlinson’s services.

Longtime Eagle Brian Westbrook’s future in the NFL is full of question marks, as he has undergone several serious concussions that may be detrimental to his life beyond football.

In the 2009 NFL Draft, the franchise did select LeSean McCoy out of Pittsburgh in the second round.

He showed promise last season, yet he doesn’t seem to have the durability to be the full-time starter. Splitting snaps with a veteran such as Tomlinson could pay dividends by forming an efficient one-two punch.  

In addition, like Tomlinson desires, the Eagles have been a team on the brink of breaking through and winning a championship in the past few seasons.

The team has been to five NFC Championship games in the past nine seasons. In 2004 they played in the Super Bowl but, unfortunately for them, lost to the Patriots 24-21.

Who knows? Tomlinson may be the missing piece in pushing the franchise over the hump.

However things pan out, I wish LaDainian Tomlinson the best of luck in the rest of his Hall of Fame career.

I have to say though, it will be strange not seeing him in a powder blue uniform any more. 

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