For Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson, the 2009 offseason was a fiasco. With him being owed a boatload of money that the team was not willing to pay, Tomlinson's representatives and GM A.J. Smith went back and forth in working out a restructured contract to keep the five-time Pro Bowler in San Diego. While a deal was ultimately worked out in March, the process was drawn out and reportedly wasn't the kindest of negotiations.
Don't expect a similar situation to occur this year. From what we hear, there is a "99 percent" chance that L.T. will not be in a Chargers uniform in 2010, only this time both parties seem fully aware of that entering the offseason. Following the team's shocking divisional-round loss to the Jets, Tomlinson sounded fairly certain that he'd be playing elsewhere next season.
"I don't know," L.T. said when asked if he'd played his final game as a Charger. "I'm not sure. I've heard all the speculation. But, I'll tell you what, I've had a heck of a time here, and if it is, I've enjoyed the ride."
With a slew of key players set to hit free agency, we're told that the Bolts can't afford to dump a bunch of money into a 30-year-old running back who appears to be on his last legs. Although he did have 12 touchdowns in '09, Tomlinson set career lows in carries (223), rushing yards (730), yards per carry (3.3) and receiving (20-154-0). Also missing two games due to an ankle injury, he simply wasn't the same player he had been in his previous eight seasons.
With Tomlinson due a $2 million roster bonus on March 1, it's just about guaranteed that he and the Chargers will part ways prior to that date. Which direction that club goes from there is the big question. Darren Sproles, who himself will likely need to work out a long-term deal that pays less annual money if he wants to remain in San Diego, is nothing more than a complementary back and return specialist, and Michael Bennett is 31 years old and not about to be a starter again.
About to have a gaping hole in the backfield, the Bolts will take a long, hard look at running backs early in the 2010 draft. Without much likely available in free agency, it's probable that Smith tries to snag his future bell cow this April.
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