Florham Park, N.J.– After the heart-breaking loss to the Steelers in the AFC Championship game, Ladainian Tomlinson continually said he had every intention of fulfilling his contractual obligations to the Jets, but ultimately he admitted his future depended on the Jets front office.
Tomlinson had said he would return, “if they even want me to return,” and if they didn’t then he would most likely retire instead of trying to find a new short-term home. A day after announcing the release of four players (Damien Woody, Kris Jenkins, Jason Taylor and Vernon Gholston) the Jets announced that they would indeed be bringing Tomlinson back into the fold next season.
Tomlinson was considered a gamble when the Jets signed him last offseason with the prevailing thought being that he was washed-up. Tomlinsion immediately proved his doubters wrong as he got off to an electric start to the season before his production began to tail off. Some of the reasons for the decline in his production was due to the wear and tear on his aging body, but the intangibles and production he brought made him a valuable cog in the offense.
The Jets relied on Tomlinson, probably, too much too early last season and it will be interesting to see what type of role he ultimately plays with this team next year. Shonn Greene will most likely see an increase in carries next year, but then again everyone kept assuming that would happen at some point last season.
The second-year running back out of USC, Joe McKnight, also figures to get a chance at contributing to this offense after impressing the coaching staff at the end of last season. McKnight is basically a poor man’s Tomlinson and depending on the growth he shows at the start of his second season he could earn a larger role, which would likely come at the expense of carries for Tomlinson.
While the three running backs will remain the same for the Jets next season, there reportedly will be a change in the Jets backfield as it appears everyone’s suspicions have been proven correct as Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reported, “John Conner slated to be starting fullback.”
Last season the Jets made the unorthodox decision to have two fullbacks on their roster both to groom the rookie and keep the respected veteran leader, Tony Richardson around. With Richardson’s contract up and him having just finished his 16th season there weren’t very many people that were expecting him to return to the Jets. So it would appear that the, “Terminator,” will be exploding defenders clearing a path for any and all of the running backs full time next season.
Conner should more than adequately make up for Richardson’s production, losing Richardson will hurt most from a leadership standpoint, but that’s probably a big reason why the Jets decided they needed to bring Tomlinson back, even if it does end up being in a reduced role. Tomlinson is a very respected player and leader, his teammates wanted to win that AFC Championship game for him, as much as they wanted to win it for their coach, Rex Ryan, and themselves.
The fact that an aging veteran, “ex-superstar,” could come into the Jets locker room and win the Dennis Byrd Award for Most Inspirational Player in his first year there speaks volumes on his work ethic, character and influence.
Many people questioned the decision to sign him last offseason, but the Jets front office is elated to be in the position to bring him back for year two and Tomlinson is surely just as thrilled to get one more crack at that ever evasive Lombardi Trophy.
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