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The man behind the mask? It’s Tomlinson — or Brady

Posted by Bill Koch on February 17, 2010

LT sidelines

I beg all of you New England Patriots fans to take note of what the San Diego Chargers are doing right now in their search for an adequate running back. New England is going to be watching the same sort of scenario play out very soon, but the position in question – quarterback – is both more vital to an organization and more difficult to fill.

San Diego is shopping its All-Pro cornerback, Antonio Cromartie, to the highest bidder in an attempt to land a franchise running back. The Chargers have finally realized what they should have known at least two seasons ago – that LaDainian Tomlinson was on his way to becoming completely irrelevant in the discussions that he used to dominate about the NFL’s top running backs. San Diego can’t fool anyone by trying to turn Darren Sproles, all 5-foot-6 of him, into an every-down guy who hammers the ball between the tackles late in the fourth quarter when a team needs a horse to milk the clock. Tomlinson struggled to career lows in carries (223) and yards (730) in 2009, a far cry from the standards he’d set since he came into the league in 2001, and he turns 31 in June. Don’t bother pointing to his touchdown numbers – even a decaying, grossly overweight Jerome Bettis could find the end zone during the end of his career with Pittsburgh. That didn’t make him a worthy starter in the NFL.

The Chargers could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by trading Tomlinson in 2007 while he still had some value and keeping Michael Turner, who showed signs that he could easily step in and get the job done. Turner averaged 5.9, 6.3 and 4.9 yards per carry during the three seasons he spent as Tomlinson’s backup, and he exploded for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns in his first full season as a starter after signing with Atlanta in 2008. Turner just turned 28, still has at least two or three productive seasons left, and the handful of draft picks that the Chargers could have received in exchange for Tomlinson could have helped the team address its needs on both sides of the ball. Now San Diego is left offering one of its best players in exchange for a maybe.

The Chargers just didn’t want to see that Tomlinson was about to slip into decline. They were too caught up in the 28 touchdowns and career-high 1,815 yards that he rushed for in 2006 to see what was really happening. San Diego had worn its star into the dust at a position where long careers last five seasons at their peak.

Which brings us to the Patriots and their own franchise player, The Artist Formerly Known as Tom Brady. The guy you’ll see wearing No. 12 in September will be a 33-year-old shell of what he once was on and off the field, and the Patriots have Brian Hoyer as a contingency plan after trading Matt Cassel for peanuts and cutting Kevin O’Connell. The 2010 version of Brady would get the shit kicked out of him by the 2004 version of Brady, a guy who had just won his third Super Bowl in four years and still valued the parking spot closest to the Gillette Stadium players’ entrance that he earned for being New England’s hardest worker in the offseason. That guy didn’t wear $10,000 suits on a trip to London while his teammates all wore sweats. That guy didn’t cry about not having receivers, pout on the sidelines while talking to his offensive coordinator or live in New York and Los Angeles. That guy was a leader, respected unconditionally by his teammates. This guy is a soft, mistake-prone fraud just like New England’s previous franchise player, Drew Bledsoe, was before the Patriots shipped him and his bloated contract to Buffalo for a first round pick.

Brady’s contract is up after 2010, and New England has no other option but to extend him and hope for the best. They let Cassel, who went 10-5 and threw for over 4,000 yards in his only season as the starter, stroll to Kansas City with Mike Vrabel for a second round pick. Instead of making the right decision like they did a decade ago, the Patriots are going to be handcuffed while Brady continues to lose his battles against time and complacency. They might want to take some notes from the Chargers about how to handle the next few seasons – both teams will have plenty of time to find replacement players when they’re both watching the playoffs at home.

One Response to “The man behind the mask? It’s Tomlinson — or Brady”

  1. […] 6:08 p.m. – Now the Patriots are being gashed by Tomlinson. If he had actually done this in the AFC Championship game all those years ago the Chargers might not have wanted to run him out of town so quickly. […]

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