Future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson was released by the San Diego Chargers Monday. Obviously this begs the question: What does Tomlinson have left and what is his value around the league at this advanced point of his career?
My answer to that question is short and simple: very little. Surely Tomlinson will get an opportunity with another team. He still consistently gets into the end zone, is a high character person and no one can question his will to win. The Houston Texans come to mind immediately as they need to add some veteran leadership. But I think his mind now writes checks his body can no longer cash. Tomlinson knows what it takes to succeed, but his once-exceptional long speed, jump-cutting ability, overall quickness, power and explosiveness have left him, as they leave most great runners his age with that much wear and tear on their bodies. I hate to say it, but I see Tomlinson ending his career much as Edgerrin James or Emmitt Smith did in Arizona. That's not good.
Despite featuring one of the most feared passing games in the league, San Diego was simply awful on the ground in 2009. The offensive line was certainly not great and there were several prominent injuries up front, but Tomlinson deserves much of the blame. The Tomlinson of a few years ago would have carved up defensive fronts that did not dedicate an extra defender to the box. This Tomlinson simply could not.
As happens with most declining runners, Tomlinson could no longer create big plays for himself. The long runs are gone. He can't run away from defenses or create the same space for himself as he once did. Tomlinson averaged a measly 3.3 yards per carry and was unable to break a run longer than 36 yards last season. He has rushed for 100 yards in a game only twice over the past two seasons.
Tomlinson also has become a forgotten member of San Diego's passing attack, catching only 20 passes this season. Before 2009, Tomlinson had never caught fewer than 51 passes. This once-great receiving option is no longer dynamic enough to make a difference in this phase of the game. When was the last time Tomlinson made a play that made you say "wow" to yourself? The answer probably is the 2007 season. That was a long time ago. It doesn't make me happy to say it, but Tomlinson is done.