This was the only end game in San Diego

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

This is the way we all thought it would end up.

Really, should LaDainian Tomlinson be anywhere but San Diego?

Before the Chargers and their legendary running back came to an agreement, there were two months of talk that it could go the other way. Last week, Tomlinson's mother went on a San Diego radio station and said it didn't look promising that her son would return to San Diego.

Earlier this week, there were whispers that Tomlinson could end up getting cut and going somewhere else, possibly New Orleans.

But in the end, the right thing happened. It seems like a fair agreement. Tomlinson won't take a pay cut in 2009, and the Chargers get some cap relief. Next year, if Tomlinson's production continues to slip and he gets injured again, he could be on his way out.

Tomlinson is one of the greatest players in franchise history. He is a future Hall of Famer. He shouldn't have left the Chargers because of a few dollars or the fact that he is about to turn 30 or the fact that he had his least productive season in 2008 or the fact that his last two postseasons were affected by injury.

The bond was too strong for there to be a divorce. The Chargers' brass and Tomlinson and his agents deserve kudos for recognizing that. An ugly departure wasn't worthy of this relationship.

Tomlinson, although no longer San Diego's best player, is still the face of the franchise. He also is a pillar of the San Diego community.

He also needs to be in San Diego for football reasons. The Chargers still need Tomlinson this season. Yes, they secured backup Darren Sproles with the franchise tag. But the team needs more than just Sproles in the backfield.

Sproles is a brilliant change-of-pace back, but he can't be a 25-30 carry-a-game back. He is too small at 5-6, 181 pounds. But if Tomlinson gets 20 carries and Sproles gets 15 carries a game, San Diego can be deadly on the ground. The Chargers need both of these players.

San Diego probably will consider drafting a running back in the early rounds as it looks for Tomlinson's eventual replacement. If Tomlinson weren't coming back, the Chargers probably would have been forced to use the No. 16 pick on a running back. But now they can use that first-round pick on an impact defensive player. Drafting a running back can even wait a year if the Chargers choose.

The decision to keep Tomlinson keeps the Chargers intact. This team's Super Bowl window is not closed and keeping Tomlinson shows that the Chargers believe this group can win a title.

There's no doubt Tomlinson has lost a step. He is no longer a dominant back, but he is a productive back and can still change games. If Tomlinson can stay healthy after dealing with several injuries in 2008, he should be a top back again in 2009.

And that's what this deal is about: 2009.