Signs point to end of Tomlinson’s ride in San Diego

LaDainian Tomlinson exited Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday not knowing if he’d ever be back. Actually, not even knowing if he wanted to be back.

“I can’t tell you that right now,” Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson’s future — with or without the Chargers — is a favorite topic of debate among NFL fans. Will he stay, or will he go?

After a season of decreased productivity, Tomlinson’s fate in San Diego appears to be tied to his contract. Such is the fate in the NFL. According to multiple published reports, Tomlinson is due a $2 million roster bonus on March 1 and $3 million in base salary in 2010. His contract can be bought out for $1 million.

NFL Network insider Michael Lombardi suggests that Tomlinson would have to restructure his contract — and his role — to stay in San Diego.

“L.T. has a very difficult road ahead of him,” Lombardi said on NFL Total Access. “But, obviously, he’ll have to take a different role with the team. Maybe a role he would not like. Certainly a different salary with the team. Maybe a salary he would not like. I think this is a divorce that is ultimately going to happen, because both parties don’t agree where they are.”

Tim Sullivan of The San Diego Union-Tribune wrote before Week 17 that Tomlinson likely was playing in his last regular-season game with the Chargers. Then after the playoff loss to the Jets, Sullivan wrote that L.T.’s exit appears all but inevitable.

These types of endings — when a superstar athlete plays his entire career through his prime in one city — are tough to swallow. Tomlinson’s comments were full of resignation when he was asked if it was his final game as a Charger.

“I don’t know. I’m not sure,” Tomlinson told reporters. “I’ve heard all the speculation. But, I’ll tell you what, I’ve had a heck of a time here, and if it is, I’ve enjoyed the ride.”

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