LT Declines to Battle the 'Lord of No Rings'
RB LaDainian Tomlinson (Jeff Gross/Getty)
RB LaDainian Tomlinson (Jeff Gross/Getty)

Posted Jan 28, 2009
scout.com


A truce, so it seems, has been called between Chargers general manager A.J. Smith and star running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

Smith drew the ire of Chargers fans -- and LaDainian Tomlinson -- when recently mocking Tomlinson's statement on his website that he would like to remain a Charger.

There has been chatter that Tomlinson would be moved, cut or asked to restructure his contract which will count some $8 million against the salary cap next season.

But Tomlinson wanted to get the word out -- on his website -- that any decision regarding him leaving the Chargers is out of his hands.

When presented with Tomlinson's remarks, the gruff Smith repeated Tomlinson's statement, nearly word-for-word, on how he wanted to remain with the Chargers as well.

If it wasn't mocking one of the most celebrated and popular players in Chargers history, it sure came across that way.

Smith would later call Tomlinson, claiming his remarks were misinterpreted.

"He apologized for what came out and he sounded sincere," Tomlinson said, while in Tampa for the Super Bowl. "I accept his apology and there is no hard feelings. (But) I did kind of take it as him mocking me."


A.J. Smith
Donald Miralle/Getty

Smith has done much damage to his reputation -- although he seeks one in which he is the ultimate hard-ball player.

That said, Smith seemed to picked a fight with someone who has legions of fans -- and rightly so, just two seasons removed from breaking the NFL touchdown mark and being the NFL's MVP.

Smith? While building a team which has reached the playoffs three straight years, the prickly executive remains true to his nickname, "Lord of No Rings."

Tomlinson, though, is coming off his least productive season in his eight NFL years. Still, he ran for more than 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns.

But he is also closing fast on age 30, which is often the time elite backs see their statistics decline at an alarming rate.

Tomlinson isn't ready to say he's on the decline. Not after toe and groin injuries derailed his season; not to mention an offensive line which had trouble run-blocking with any consistency.

"My main concern is me being healthy next year," Tomlinson said. "So I can prove that I am still an elite player in the league."

Tomlinson has said "anything is negotiable" regarding taking another look at his rich contract. While the Chargers aren't overly eager to push Tomlinson out the door, on the horizon is completing contracts with three Pro Bowlers: quarterback Philip Rivers, outside linebacker Shawne Merriman and left tackle Marcus McNeill.

"An organization makes decisions for business and what is best for them," Tomlinson said. "I'll do the exact same thing."

Tomlinson might look at another offense as being more attractive. Since Norv Turner took over for Marty Schottenheimer two years ago, the offense has transformed from a power-running attack to one more suited for Rivers' big arm.

But what's clear is the Chargers' front office -- again -- created a big mess and it has been cleaning up since.

Some speculate Smith was aiming his displeasure more at Tomlinson's agent, Tom Condon, than the best back in Chargers history.

NOTES, QUOTES

-- The Chargers have signed a marketing agreement with a Los Angeles firm to promote the team in Orange County and L.A. The team is currently in a window in which it could claim it is leaving San Diego for another city, but team officials said the team is going nowhere -- for now.

-- Don Johnson will become the club's new defensive line coach and Steve Wilks will coach the secondary. Both coaches are former Chicago Bears assistants and worked with defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.

-- Former All-Pro CB Cris Dishman, who spent the 2008 offseason with the team's NFL's Minority Coaching Fellowship program, was hired as the assistant secondary coach and Greg Williams will be an assistant linebackers coach.


LaDainian Tomlinson
Jeff Gross/Getty

-- RB LaDainian Tomlinson is due to count $8.8 million against the 2009 salary cap, and there are indications the Chargers might be seeking to trade the eight-year veteran. Tomlinson, who will turn 30 in June, is under contract through 2011, but he has been slowed by injuries the past two years.

Team president Dean Spanos addressed the growing rumors that Tomlinson might not be back with the team by telling the team's website that: "We can't let our emotions taint our decisions." Spanos and Tomlinson talked Thursday. "We talked about the situation and I just tried to explain everything that must be considered," Spanos told Chargers.com.

"I told him we haven't even started our discussions and won't for awhile, so don't jump to any conclusions. And I told him I would call him personally to make sure he's aware of everything going on."

--In a vote among Chargers, QB Philip Rivers and DT Jamal Williams were named the team's co-Most Valuable Players. Rivers was also the Offensive Player of the Year; Williams the top defender and lineman. RB/KR Darren Sproles took the special teams honor and CB Quentin Jammer was named the most inspirational.

--The Chargers' soon-to-be unrestricted free agents are RG Mike Goff, DE Igor Olshansky, OLs Jeremy Newberry and Kynan Forney, OLB Marques Harris and RB Darren Sproles. Olshansky was grumbling after the season that he wasn't used properly. Olshansky, a former second-round pick, isn't expected back. Same goes for Goff.

The Chargers look to 2009 and hope to figure out why they consistently get off to slow starts, requiring a big push at the end to make the playoffs. "The last two years, September didn't go the way we'd hoped," s Eric Weddle said. "Doing it this way is tiring. We've got to be a complete team from day one next year."

--ILB Stephen Cooper would have mixed emotions if the Chargers lost defensive coordinator Ron Rivera to one of the head-coaching vacancies around the league. "Guys would be sad but it's part of the business," he said. "Guys come and go, whether it's players or coaches. If it does happen, more power to him. He deserves a head-coaching job. He's a great coach and a great person."

--The Chargers have the 16th overall selection in next spring's draft.

--QB Philip Rivers' offseason plans? "A whole lot of nothing," he said. "The first couple days are tough because you've been in such a routine and such a focus for ... 20 weeks now. All of the sudden it's over. It'll settle in and you kind of get away from it a little bit and then you gear up and go at it again."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You are never surprised about anything. That is just something that goes along with the territory and the business we're in and something everyone must deal with." -- LB LaDainian Tomlinson, on if he would be surprised if the Chargers don't bring him back.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

In addition to the mystery of LaDainian Tomlinson's return, the Chargers must decide what to do with Darren Sproles.

For the second straight offseason, a Charger fresh on the market appears to be one of the real key players of free agency. This year, it's Sproles, whose value skyrocketed when he filled in for Tomlinson this season. Last year, Michael Turner was the one seeking an opportunity and he paid off in a big way for his new team, the Falcons.

Sproles is undersized, but you can't argue with his production as a back and returner. But do the Chargers want to entrust their running game to a 5-foot-6, 181-pound back? That's among the big personnel questions looking to be addressed.

-- The team signed LB Eric Bakhtiari, WR Gary Banks, RB Eldra Buckley, DE Andre Coleman, G Brandyn Dombrowski, CBs Grant Mason and DeJuan Tribble, and DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo.



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