Jets owner Woody Johnson should have spent more time worrying about LaDainian Tomlinson than he did about the NFL’s recent “secret” coin flip. If that was the case, Tomlinson might not have signed with New York over the weekend.
Initially, it looks like a good move. The Jets added a Hall of Fame running back to replace Thomas Jones, and Tomlinson could definitely revitalize his sliding career by running behind the Jets’ ultra-sturdy offensive line. Tomlinson would also share the stable with second-year back Shonn Green and third-down specialist Leon Washington — assuming the speedster re-ups with the Jets, and most signs indicate he will — so a split workload would benefit the former Charger, who turns 31 in June.
Tomlinson has averaged 59 receptions over his nine-year career, and he is a steady upgrade over Jones in that department. This adds another weapon who can help shrink the field and slow down the game for quarterback Mark Sanchez, who is still in the game-managing stage of his career. By keeping things simple — remember how important it was for Tom Brady to rely on short throws to running backs during his early years — Sanchez can continue building confidence while he lets the Jets’ tenacious defense win their games.
But this also comes across like a Yankees signing. The Jets landed a big name, a headline grabber and a one-time statistical monster. Yet Tomlinson is about two seasons removed from his prime, and his agent, Tom Condon, told The Associated Press the running back wanted to sign with a team that gave him a chance to have a “significant” role.
So, what happens if Greene picks up where he left off in the playoffs, where he rushed for 304 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and two touchdowns? And what if Tomlinson’s 2009 struggles really did have more to do with his age and dwindling skills than the Chargers’ weak offensive line? If Green dominates the early-down carries and Washington remains a weapon on third down and long-yardage situations, can Tomlinson really accept his role as a third-stringer?
This is a guy who notoriously sulked on the sidelines due to a sheepish injury during the 2007 AFC championship, helmet on and hiding underneath the hood of his hefty winter jacket while quarterback Philip Rivers courageously battled the Patriots on one leg. Tomlinson was then hardly heard from throughout the last two seasons while his role tapered off in San Diego.
The Chargers were 21-11 in those two seasons and considered Super Bowl contenders each year (admittedly more so in 2009 than in 2008), just like the Jets will be in 2010. If Tomlinson doesn’t have the significant role he desired, why should the Jets believe he’ll be any better for the locker room than he was in San Diego?
Add that to the fact that Tomlinson is taking the place of Jones, who was a great locker-room guy, and that could make him stand out more in comparison. Plus, Tomlinson is easily the most accomplished player on New York’s offensive side of the ball, and that will make his teammates gravitate toward him that much more. If he blows up or sulks, that could be the recipe for a divisive locker room — although that is probably the worst-case scenario.
This isn’t to say the Tomlinson signing is destined for failure, but there are plenty of factors that should have bred a little more caution from the Jets’ camp. Let’s say there’s a 50-50 chance this signing works in their favor. They better hope it turns out better than the last coin flip.