Not So Sure About L.T in New York, Just Yet

Recently signed New York Jets RB LaDainian Tomlinson has a lot to prove to J-E-T-S fans in order for them to forget former workhorse Thomas Jones

One of the best stories of the 2009 NFL Season was the return of the New York Jets to prominence under brash rookie head coach Rex Ryan.  The J-E-T-S became the darlings of the National Football League by playing the same brand of football that I grew-up loving back during the heyday of the NFC East division in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. 

Remember the Philadelphia Eagles — led by Rex’s Dad, Buddy Ryan — New York Giants, Washington Redskins, and Dallas Cowboys always being in the playoff hunt due to running the ball and playing tough defense.   In fact, the NFC East division from 1985 to 1995 hoisted the Lombardi Trophy 7 times by sticking to this established philosophy. 

Ryan’s 2009 NY Jets squad also focused on the same basics of running the football and using an attacking defense to cause turnovers (42).  In making the postseason for the first time since 2006, the New York Jets pulled off the pretty rare “double” of leading the NFL in rushing (172.3 yards per game) and yards allowed (252.3 yards per game) — eighth team since 1970 to lead the NFL in both rushing offense and total defense. 

The NY Jets (9-7 in the regular season) further proved that playing old fashioned tough football still worked, when they stormed past the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers to surprisingly  face the “mighty” Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game.  Unfortunately after a first half that was very competitive, Ryan’s upstarts fell to the Colts by a score of 30-17.

However even in losing, many people around the NFL believed that the NY Jets still had a bright future.  Young emerging quarterback Mark Sanchez would continue to grow and the J-E-T-S still had their aforementioned strengths of a stout defense and a solid rushing attack that franchise record 2,756 rushing yards.  The big “if” was whether all the pieces from the NY Jets’ 2009 team would be back, which we all know is virtually impossible in the NFL’s era of free agency.

Unfortunately you knew it was going to be tough to keep all of the teams players this offseason.  And the first tough decision came when veteran running back Thomas Jones, who had ran for a career-high 1,402 rush yards in ’09 to join former NY Jets runner Curtis Martin as the franchise’s only backs to reach 1,400 yards in single season, was due a $3 million roster bonus in early March.

NY Jets GM Mike Tannebaum recently said, “(Running the ball) is important to Rex (Ryan).  That’s our offensive philosophy.”  So surely after 3-consecutive 1100-yard plus seasons in New York including a 2008 Pro Bowl selection, the well-liked Jones would be back.  Well…wrong, after Jones didn’t want to take a pay cut on his roster bonus and 2010 salary of $2.8 Million, he was released on March 2nd to the dismay of NY Jets’ fans and many in the team’s lockeroom.

Jones’ release showed once again that he is one of the NFL’s most under-appreciated running backs ever. Despite having produced 9,217 yards and 62 touchdowns over a 10-year NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Bucs, Chicago Bears, and NY Jets.  However Jones and his representative, Drew Rosenhaus, quickly rebounded as the soon to be 32-year old runner signed a two-year, $5 million deal that will pay him $3 million in 2010 and $2 million in 2011, with another $500,000 available for incentives, on March 9th.

In looking for Jones’ replacement and emerging powerback Shonn Greene’s new tag-team partner, the NY Jets had an assortment of free agent veteran runners to choose from including Brian Westbrook, Willie Parker, Jamaal Lewis, LaDainian Tomlinson, and others.  Ultimately the Jets chose to sign Tomlinson — who turns 31 in June – on March 14th, giving him a two-year, $5.2 million contract with another $500,000 available via incentives. 

The signing of Tomlinson to replace Jones instantly fueled a ton of discussion in the New York market.  In breaking up one of the NFL’s best 1-2 punches from the 2009 season (Greene and Jones), the Jets quickly felt the ire of their fans.  And I have to agree with most of the fans who are questioning the move to not stick with Jones while bringing in an aging Tomlinson. 

Jones clearly showed last season that he had fresher legs than Tomlinson and with both backs being around the same age, the former 1-time Pro Bowl player has 600 less carries than L.T.

Over the past two seasons, L.T’s production has continually fallen – rushed for a career-low 730 yards in 2009 with a disappointing 3.3 yards per carry average.  Plus after a 9-year career of being a workhorse for the San Diego Chargers including 2880 carries — produced a Hall of Fame worthy 12,490 yards — you have to wonder what L.T has left. 

Sure, Greene is one of the best young power backs in the NFL (produced 304 rushing yards with a 5.6 per carry average in the playoffs) and naturally he will get  the lion’s share of the NY Jets’ carries (300+) next season.  Plus scatback Leon Washington is coming back (knee) and the Jets have one of the NFL’s most dominant run blocking offensive lines led by young Pro Bowl players, D’Brickshaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. 

But at some point during the 2010 season, L.T will have to show that he is close to returning to his old dual-threat form in order to push the Jets past the Colts and his old nemesis, the New England Patriots — will now be facing them twice a year in the regular season.   

Upon signing with the NY Jets, Tomlinson said “I will tell you I’ve come here to win a championship, and I believe this team has the ability to do it”.  But not so fast L.T as right now, until you can show more than the measly 24 yards on 12 carries that you put against the NY Jets in the 2009 NFL Playoffs, then you are looking like  to me former NFL great Tony Dorsett playing for the Denver Broncos at the end of his career.   And everyone knows how aging runners like Dorsett, Eric Dickerson, Shaun Alexander and OJ Simpson left the NFL.

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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