If you’ve been playing fantasy football for the last five years, you know about the enormous impact of LaDainian Tomlinson.
Since 2004, the talented running back out of Texas Christian has finished no worse than sixth in fantasy points among running backs on NFL.com. He was the was the top-scoring runner in 2006 and 2007, and finished third behind Shaun Alexander and Larry Johnson in 2005.
But just like the rest of us, age has finally caught up with him.
Tomlinson finished with career lows in yards and ranked just 20th in fantasy points at his position in 2009 at the age of 30 (the age when so many running backs before him also broke down).
Seeing the writing on the wall, the Chargers released the future Hall of Famer on Monday. The move ends an incredible nine-year stint, both on the field and in the world of fantasy football.
So what does the future hold for Tomlinson?
Chances are good that he’ll find work with a new team during the offseason as long as his contractual demands are reasonable.
But much like O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson, Emmitt Smith and other elite backs who have switched teams late in their careers, Tomlinson is almost certain to experience a decrease in production and fantasy value.
The current NFL teams that could use another back include the Browns, Chiefs, Lions, Seahawks and Texans, but landing a starting role even in the best-case scenario is no lock. In fact, it makes more sense for Tomlinson to end up in a backfield committee.
Remember, he finished last season with a career-low 3.3 yards-per-carry average and only had fantasy value because of his red-zone opportunities in an explosive Chargers offense. Tomlinson’s touchdown chances are destined to fall if he lands with a team that has less talent on offense, which is likely.
He’ll be more of a potential flex starter and worth no more than a middle-round selction in fantasy drafts wherever he ends up.
With L.T. out of the mix, the Chargers backfield situation is now clouded at best.
Darren Sproles is a restricted free agent who will cost close to $7 million to retain. I don’t see him as a starting running back at the NFL level even if he remains with the team. At 5-foot-6, it’s hard to envision a scenario where he can handle the workload of a featured runner.
With only Michael Bennett also on the roster, the Chargers will no doubt add another back in the coming months. One rumor has the Chargers and Bills exchanging Antonio Cromartie and Marshawn Lynch, and other reports have the team focusing on Tomlinson’s replacement in April’s rookie draft.
Whatever the scenario, fantasy leaguers can expect the Chargers to remain a pass-first team in 2010 that will enchance the numbers and fantasy value of Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates.