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Posted: Wednesday January 14, 2009 2:26PM; Updated: Monday January 19, 2009 4:19AM
Jim Trotter Jim Trotter >
INSIDE THE NFL

Chargers handling Tomlinson like journeyman, not Hall of Famer

Story Highlights

L.T. trade talk has been out there for weeks, but Chargers stay silent

Tomlinson: 'I think it's ridiculous to be talking about me not being here'

Anonymous GMs: There will be a trade market for Tomlinson

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A groin injury sidelined LaDainian Tomlinson for the majority of the Chargers' playoff run.
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"Two things I always knew about my league, the NFL: You don't ask for favors, you don't hang around. A man might love the game, but the game loves no one. The game will use what he has, [then] discard him. The sh-- isn't personal."
--Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, in his autobiography, Out of Bounds.

LaDainian Tomlinson was a rookie with the Chargers in 2001 when he read Brown's book. Asked later what resonated with him most, the former TCU star spoke about the aforementioned passage. Then he wrapped up his feelings by saying, in so many words: Pro football is a business; loyalty is a fantasy.

The significance of that belief has never carried more weight with Tomlinson than it does today. After eight mostly glorious seasons with the Chargers, during which he helped the organization go from 1-15 to a Super Bowl contender, the running back is rumored to be on the trading block.

The talk has hung in the air for weeks and, to date, no one from the front office has told him it's unfounded. The silence is deafening to Tomlinson -- particularly when you consider how swiftly general manager A.J. Smith and club president Dean Spanos moved to squash speculation that coach Norv Turner was on the hot seat during the team's 4-8 start.

Tomlinson, whose past two seasons were cut short by injury, knows the game is a business. But at the same time he is human and admits to being hurt by not only the lack of communication, but also the mere suggestion he should not be a part of the Chargers' future plans.

"I've tried to be the best professional, best player, best person in the community that this organization has ever seen, that's what I've always tried to do and will continue to do because that's who I am," Tomlinson said. "But to be treated like this, to me it just reaffirms my faith in God, to be honest with you. To let nothing bother me because of my faith in God and how far he has brought me. Because this is what man will do to you: Man will build you up and make you think that you're the greatest and that you're going to be here forever, and then man does this. Man crucifies you. ...

"I think it's ridiculous to be talking about trade and me not being here, that's just my personal opinion. I know every team has a right to make trades and all this stuff, but I just think it's ridiculous to be talking about this, to have this stuff in the media when this could be handled behind closed doors and in a professional way. Now I have people calling me, talking about this all the time; this has become a big story and I don't want this."

This seems a strange way to treat a player who has been the face of the franchise since shortly after arriving in San Diego. When the team extended Tomlinson's contract in 2004, making him the highest-paid running back in the league, Spanos spoke about Tomlinson being everything you could want in a player and person. He referred to him as a role model. He has had Tomlinson and his wife, LaTorsha, over to his house for dinner on multiple occasions and has allowed them to fly with him on his private jet to league events, including a press conference to accept the NFL's Man of the Year award following the 2006 season. So, it does seem peculiar Spanos would be so silent at this point.

Smith, the general manager who has a reputation for being all-business, declined to discuss Tomlinson's situation this week because, as he has said on so many occasions, he does not discuss his team's football business. He said he plans to follow his customary routine, which is for everyone to get away after the season for a couple of weeks, then come back for player evaluation meetings with clear minds.

Those meetings will kick off on Jan. 27. However, unlike in previous years, when Tomlinson's name was never discussed because of his greatness and a contract that runs through 2011, Smith said L.T. will be discussed "heavily" this year. That's in part because Tomlinson will be 30, is coming off two injury-shortened seasons, has an $8.8 million cap figure next season, and once said he didn't expect to play in the final year of his contract (although he also has said he does plan to play through the end of his deal).

"L.T. will be discussed in great length on a number of issues by this organization based on [the three years he has remaining on his contract]," Smith said. "Now that may be shocking to you or it may be shocking to L.T. or anyone else out there, and if it is I don't know what to tell you; but as the general manager of the football team, the recommendations I'm going to make to Dean Spanos, like I've done all these years, I think it's valid to discuss a football player like L.T. and [what has happened] the last couple of years, looking ahead to a contract that has three years remaining on it.

"All of that may be stunning to people, but as the GM here -- where I told you I would pass his name a few years ago -- it will be discussed heavily. I think it's valid; I don't think it's ridiculous. I think it's important at this point in time, as unreasonable as that may sound to many people or to you, I think it's a sound football decision."

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