LaDainian Tomlinson Released by San Diego

LaDainian Tomlinson Released by San Diego

The big news today is the San Diego Chargers decision to cut veteran running back LaDainian Tomlinson. The former TCU standout had played all nine of his professional seasons with the Chargers since being drafted in the 1st round of the 2001 Draft. Tomlinson’s playing exploits, which are guaranteed to earn him a spot in Canton one day, include rushing for 12,490 yards and 138 rushing touchdowns. He eclipsed the 1,000 yard plateau in his first eight seasons, was named a Pro Bowler five times, an All Pro three times, and was one of the best pass-catching ‘backs in the league for the better part of his career. But even in ‘08 it was becoming apparent that LT was on the decline. That’s no knock on him. It’s what happens to running backs in their late 20s and early 30s, particularly to those who have accumulated as much wear and tear as LT has over the years.

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Anyway, out of respect to LT, let’s save the post-mortem on his career until he’s actually retired. Just because he won’t be toting the rock in San Diego anymore doesn’t mean he’s rushed the ball for the last time in the National Football League. It should be quite interesting to see where LT lands this spring or summer, and though he’ll never be the same explosive back he once was earlier in his career, it would be foolish in my opinion to think the 30 year old can’t contribute somehow, someway to a winning football team in the next several years. There’s been reaction galore since the news broke of LT’s release, and thanks to the fine work done by Coach Kentera on XX 1090 in San Diego, SRI has been able to transcribe for you much of it. The interviews below include Chargers GM A.J. Smith, who explained the thought process behind the decision; long time teammates Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who spoke as highly about LT as a person as they did about him the football player; and the fullback who paved the way for so much of LT’s success over the years, Lorenzo Neal.

Smith on why the team opted to release LT so soon rather than closer to the March 5th deadline for making such transactions:

“Well what we decided to do is, we still have more meetings and we’ll wrap those up before the 3rd or 4th of March, but we had discussed LT first, and with the Combine starting right now out of respect, and everybody’s leaving tomorrow or the next day, everyone is there at the same time. All the agents are there, they have a convention; everybody in the National Football League is there. It would give him an opportunity with his agents to explore the possibilities for another team and get a jump-start on the process, which is really why we did it now.”

Smith on how the thought process regarding LT’s situation in San Diego dating back to this time last year:

“Well we looked at the big picture a year ago. John, you’re right on that. What we wanted to do is have a 3-year contract in place so that we would know exactly what the monies would be in ‘09, ‘10, and ‘11. Because you know and the fans know, we have so much that we’re looking at to try to fix on this football team in the upcoming years, that it basically was a year to year situation. For this year, we decided this particular year to go in a different direction.”

Smith on if he was able to personally meet with LT today:

“Dean met with him first, then I went in with Coach along with Ed McGuire and we met with him also after their brief meeting.”

Smith on if there was much talking in the meeting with LT or if it was instead just a quick shaking of hands:

“Well it was a little bit of a  conversation. Dean had a private conversation with him first, then we just went in there and thanked him and wished him good luck in the future. I don’t know what Coach said or Eddie McGuire, but I just thanked him so much and appreciated being around him, his true professionalism. And personally, I just said to him I wish I could have contributed and do a better job as a GM to make the ultimate happen for him, which would be to hold the Super Bowl trophy or ring. But we just couldn’t quite get it done at this point in time with the Chargers organization. It was good. He flashed that smile a couple of times, which easily puts us at ease. But it was a good conversation.”

Philip Rivers on how he found out about the news and what his reaction was:

“Well I guess I was in the weight room when he was released, and I was made aware down here about a half hour ago or a little more. It’s always tough any time you lose a teammate, whether that be a trade, free agency or in this case after an unbelievable 9 year career here with the Chargers. LT, what he’s meant to this organization and this community, is really unmatched. What he did on the field speaks for itself, and the #21 jerseys and the kids and people that he’s affected, unbelievable. I’m sure those #21 jerseys will continue to be rampant in that stadium for many, many years”

Rivers on if he was able to speak to LT today:

“The thing about this that I always hate being a player that will return next year is anytime a veteran player or a player’s career will no longer continue here, you feel horrible. We didn’t win a championship while this group was here, while this guy was here. Especially LT, what he’s done. When he got here in ‘01 and where we’ve come in large part due to his play, where we are now to not win a championship. You hate for him to be leaving without one. And that is what I tried to express to him. You remember every guy. In the past five or six years, you lose guys and you hate it that you didn’t win a championship while they were here. But again, our friendship, and being a teammate of his, and having him stand right there beside me or behind me every play was a real treat and certainly an honor to play with him.”

Gates on his initial reaction to the news of LT’s release:

“Yeah, it’s just a sad day for the Chargers, the city of San Diego. You’re talking about a guy in LaDanian that I think knowing him and I played my whole career with him, so obviously he has a warm part in my heart. Obviously this is a situation with the business, and that’s something that will happen to just about every player in the National Football League.”

Gates on if he thought it was ever a possibility that LT would finish his career in San Diego:

“Personally I just thought they would find a way to keep him. I didn’t know the real inside of what was going on, you know, negotiation reasons, what they wanted to do as far as extending him, did they want him to take less money. But when you talk about a guy like LaDanian, you talk about a guy who means so much to the organization. But we all know that one person is not above an organization and obviously that was the circumstance. It’s just one of those situations where you hate to see it happen, but you knew it was coming, you had a feeling it was coming. And this past season, since I’ve been playing with him, this was the only season I felt different about how he felt about being in San Diego. So I just had a feeling at one point this would happen. But it came a lot sooner than I thought.”

Gates on LT as a teammate away from gamedays:

You know what, the thing about LT is you look at him as a player as a phenomenal football player – Hall of Famer, MVP guy. But the person that he was was more impressive than than the football player that he was. I think that’s something being in that locker room I can share, my teammates can share about him. Because he not only carried himself first class on the football field, but off the football field he was a first class act as well. That’s something you can learn when you think of leaders, when you think of guys that lead teams to victories and are class acts off the football field, LaDanian Tomlinson is definitely a guy that stands for that.”

Neal on being shocked about the news, even if he knew the day was eventually coming:

Yeah without a doubt. It’s a tough day, and it’s a sad day I think for San Diego and it’s a sad day for the National Football League. You knew it was coming but like I said, it’s not the crash that killed you, it’s the sudden stop. We knew it was coming, it’s just tough.”

Neal on their special relationship:

“You know, me and LT, we have a great relationship. Like I always say if you listen to all the different times I’ve had to comment about LaDanian Tomlinson – LT will always be a better person than he is a football player. Football’s what he does, it’s not who he is, and that doesn’t determine the size of the man’s heart…”

Neal on how much left he thinks LT might have in the tank:

“Yeah without a doubt. He can definitely can still be a dominant player in the National Football League. I think LT, you’ll see him this year, he’s going to play with a passion, he’s going to play with a big heart, and I think he’s going to be successful. But it’s just tough man, it’s tough. When you’re put in that position – you know, LaDanian he goes from a team that’s committed to running the ball. Let’s not get it twisted. If you look at San Diego and their philosophy, it’s now to be a finesse team. And it showed up in the play. They are no longer a physical smash-mouth team. That’s the way that Norv Turner has changed this offense. He’s the head coach, they’ve got a dynamic quarterback in Philip Rivers and a lot of great talented receivers in Malcolm and those other receivers that they have. And Antonio Gates. So this is what they are. They’re a vertical team. They can spread people out and go deep, and they’re a passing team now. So it’s tough. I think LaDanian wants to be in a position where he feels he’s appreciated…You wish the best for LaDanian because he’s an incredible athlete and he’s an incredible person.”

Neal on if he too believes that LT might have a big year this coming season given how he might be extra motivated to prove he’s not done just yet:

“You know what? I kind of tend to see it that way too. I think that any great player, I think when you push any great man or great person and push him into a corner. Think about a cat – they’re always running, they don’t like it. But if you get a cat and you push him in that corner, and that cat’s got a fight. Oh my, be careful. Wrap up your hands because you’re going to come out with some scars and some cuts. I think LaDanian now, he’s pushed in a corner. Everyone’s looking at him. LaDanian, is he done? This is a man that lives for that type of moment. And I think that you will see LaDanian come back from in the corner from the beginning, from the opening day, and I think that this guy – given the right opportunity, going to the right office that suits him and believes in his passion – I think LaDanain Tomlinson will finish in the top 5 to 6 in rushing this next year, if that right opportunity presents itself, and barring injuries.”

Roger Goodell Will Have His Plate Full In The Near Future

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