In many ways 2008 and 2009 were transition years for the San Diego Chargers when it comes to the team’s franchise face. LaDainian Tomlinson will always be remembered as the Charger of the decade, putting up Hall of Fame numbers across his nine-year San Diego Chargers career.
In 2008 LaDainian Tomlinson went below 1,200 rushing yards for the first time as a Charger. That same season was the first where Philip Rivers went over 4,000 yards passing. Tomlinson was still the biggest name in Chargertown, but the young quarterback was emerging as the crux of the offense.
2009 continued that trend. LaDainian Tomlinson fighting early injury, a change in scheme, and the wear and tear of long mileage, had his worst season as a pro. He only managed 730 yards and 3.3 yards per carry as the team plummeted to 31st overall in rushing.
Philip Rivers however continued his ascent to the team forefront behind a 4,200 yard 28 touchdown season that peaked with his becoming one of four players to receive MVP votes (and the only under 30).
With LaDainian Tomlinson cut from the team, Rivers now becomes the uncontested face of the San Diego Chargers. The team has an array of Pro-Bowl quality stars that it puts around him, including tight end Antonio Gates and current restricted free agent Vincent Jackson, yet Rivers is the key to making the San Diego offense work.
This value to the team was rewarded during the 2009 season as Rivers was inked to a six year contract extension worth roughly $92 million. The contract almost ensures that the team will remain a pass-centric offense for the foreseeable future, keeping focus on the big quarterback with the unorthodox arm.
As a leader of the team he is definitely far more vocal than the lead by example methods of Tomlinson. His willingness to engage verbally has lead to much of the flak taken by fans of other teams; however Rivers has predominantly proven able to support his vociferousness with production.
The playoffs have not yielded the results hoped for by Rivers, but thus far his brief career in the playoffs is not unlike that of Peyton Manning’s who did not achieve complete postseason success until his seventh season.
Rivers only has four years as a starter for the Chargers organization comprising 64 total starts, a fact often overlooked. He has improved three straight years while developing a great rapport with his receiving corps.
The ultimate roster for 2010 is still to be determined. Any host of the team’s vast crop of free agents could be departed, while it remains to be seen if cornerback Antonio Cromartie will be traded away (and who he will bring in should he be traded). The running back position is essentially vacant, with one restricted free agent and one depth-veteran who saw virtually no field time last season.
Regardless of who the team adds and who the team loses, one fact will be certain in 2010—Philip Rivers is now the Chargers organization. The decline of Tomlinson left the notion up for debate, but his removal now puts the weight of the team on his shoulders, with San Diego’s success across the next several years dependent upon how Rivers can perform within that role.