L.T.: Trading me would be ridiculous (cont.)
There is an adage that it's not what you do, but how you do it. Tomlinson, in my opinion, earned the right long ago to have these discussions behind closed doors. He should not have to learn from reporters that the team will consider or attempt to trade him. That news should come directly from Spanos or Smith, even if they ultimately decide to do nothing.
This is not some journeyman we're talking about. This is a Hall of Fame back, an icon, a role model. He has conducted himself with class since he arrived and been a beacon for the organization. Smith says the team has made no decisions on any player under contract because, as is his custom, he waits until after the year-end evaluation meetings to get input from coaches and scouts.
I'm a firm believer that the Chargers -- and every other team -- has the right to trade any player, including Tomlinson (even though I believe it would be a mistake). But there is a right way and wrong way to go about it. So far, the Chargers have chosen the wrong way.
Some of it could be a byproduct of the team's dislike for Tomlinson's agent, Tom Condon. There has been bad blood between the sides over how situations involving Drew Brees, Donnie Edwards and Eli Manning were handled. Management does not like Condon, and, for all we know, Condon doesn't like the San Diego brass.
The flames of discontent were fanned again during the playoffs when the severity of Tomlinson's groin injury leaked out the morning of the postseason opener against the Colts. The Chargers believe the information came from Tomlinson's camp, from Condon or someone on his staff. The organization was further inflamed when Tomlinson acknowledged the injury the next week, during preparations for the divisional-round game against Pittsburgh.
"People talk about getting their feelings hurt," Smith said. "Well, a lot of people get their feelings hurt all the time. This is a hard, cold business. I get my feelings hurt, too, when I see a report about an extensive evaluation of his injury come across the bottom of the screen from [ESPN's] Chris Mortensen. I get my feelings hurt there, too, and then double that when there is verification from L.T. right after that. So we all get our feelings hurt, and then you take a step back."
If the Chargers are looking to trade Tomlinson, there definitely will be a market, according to several general mangers who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But the Chargers aren't going to get what they could have a couple of years ago, when he was the best player in the game and shattered numerous rushing and scoring records.
Each of the executives said they doubted any team would surrender a first-day draft choice because Tomlinson will be 30 next year and has shown signs of wear and tear. He missed part of the playoffs last season with a sprained knee and was sidelined for all but the first half of the Colts wild-card game this year because of a partially detached groin.
"You could see from those final two games that he played in when he was healthy that he still has juice," said one GM. "But running backs who have had as many touches as him tend to drop off quickly after 30, and he's had problems with injuries."
The Chargers have the right to trade Tomlinson and surely will do what's best for their organization. But it would be nice to see them just once part ways with a Hall of Fame-caliber player on a good note. It didn't happen with tight end Kellen Winslow or safety Rodney Harrison or linebacker Junior Seau. Hopefully that trend ends with Tomlinson, although the way things have been handled to date raises serious doubt.
One thing I know: As much as Smith is viewed as a hard-ass, he has great respect for the legends of the game, particularly one as talented and as conscientious as Tomlinson. But he also can be emotional and sometimes allows that to affect his judgment. Deep down, I feel he ultimately will do the right thing with Tomlinson and at least reach out to him and tell him nothing has been decided either way.
Tomlinson, who is meeting today with a specialist to get a second opinion on his groin, says he plans on working as hard as ever in the offseason to have a great year in 2009. He says doctors have told him he doesn't need surgery at this point, a revelation that brings a smile to his face. But almost as quickly as he flashes it, it vanishes at the thought of the trade speculation.
Tomlinson said coach Norv Turner has told him the talk about him being traded is "ridiculous," and Spanos, during a postseason practice, talked to Tomlinson as if Tomlinson would return, although he did not mention the rampant speculation. Still, no one of authority has come out and squashed the talk in public.
"I'm going to continue to do the things to get me prepared and ready to play next year," Tomlinson said. "In today's game, you have no control over your future when you're under contract with somebody. They can release, they can trade you, they can do whatever they want with you, because you're under contract. I'm going to get myself healthy and prepared to play football at the highest level. That's all I'm going to say about it.
"I want to be here. I want to be here because I feel like this team is on the verge of being a championship team. Way back when we were struggling and my contract was coming up, I made a vow to myself that I wasn't going to run out at that time. I could have chosen to let it play out and try to get out of here. But I wanted to be a part of turning it around. Now I'm at the point where it has turned around. Things aren't absolutely perfect, but I think this is a chance that I'm going to have to win a championship before I retire. I started here and I want to finish here. But it's not up to me anymore. That's the disappointing thing."
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