Two tremors in the NFL landscape began this week, as the Chargers released RB LaDanian Tomlinson and the Patriots announced they would use the franchise tag on NT Vince Wilfork. Here are thoughts on both moves. We’ll compare the Tomlinson release to others entering the league year next week, and we’ll compare Wilfork to other franchise players once the deadline for tagging players passes later this week.
In San Diego, Tomlinson had a great career for the Chargers, but like most running backs in the NFL, he is hitting the wall hard now that he’s 30. LDT hasn’t been the same back the last two seasons, and he’s no longer an elite player as a rusher or receiver. The Chargers redid his contract last year to give him a chance to prove he was back, but Tomlinson was unable to do so, and that made this decision the right move professionally. Now the Chargers will rely more on Darren Sproles as their backfield sparkplug while they look for a back who can carry enough of the load to keep the diminutive Sproles healthy. Tomlinson leaves San Diego as one of the greatest Chargers of all time – the kind of player whose number should be retired by the franchise. Unfortunately, he also leaves as a washed-up running back whose next stop will remind us not of his salad days but of Emmitt Smith in Arizona, Tony Dorsett in Denver, or Franco Harris in Seattle.
In New England, the massive Wilfork won’t see unrestricted free agency because the Patriots used the franchise tag on him. That guarantees Wilfork a one-year, $7 million contract but keeps him from hitting the lottery with guaranteed money in a long-term contract elsewhere. The Pats say they want to find a long-term solution with Wilfork, but the franchise’s unwillingness to pay other players like Asante Samuel or Richard Seymour is enough reason to make Wilfork’s agent nervous. Wilfork is the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle, and that makes him incredibly valuable. He’s a run stuffer who can collapse the pocket, and there just aren’t many of those guys walking the earth. So Wilfork is definitely worth the $7 million to the Patriots this season, and he might still end up cashing a bigger check by the time his status is resolved.