NFL: Tomlinson says he would welcome third-down back role with Vikings
By Judd Zulgad
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
MINNEAPOLIS — Word that the Minnesota Vikings were going to make a pitch to sign free-agent LaDainian Tomlinson was met with questions about whether the veteran running back would be willing to play second fiddle to Adrian Peterson. Tomlinson fashioned a Hall of Fame resume in nine NFL seasons with San Diego, rushing for 12,490 yards to put him eighth on the league’s all-time list. He is second in rushing touchdowns (138) and third in total touchdowns (153).
So could his ego take replacing Chester Taylor and being the third-down back behind Peterson? After enjoying a meal of pan-roasted chicken Wednesday night at Manny’s Steakhouse in downtown Minneapolis, Tomlinson made it clear that not only could he handle the role, he would welcome it.
“I don’t” have a problem with it, said Tomlinson, who will turn 31 in June. “I know I can catch the ball really well out of the backfield, can run routes and that’s something that I’ve always looked for as I got older in my career. Being able to fall back on that. Not having to carry the ball as much.
“I think that’s what was lost in San Diego because I was the only guy that could really carry the ball 20 times. So my third-down role was reduced. So now I’m looking for that. It’s something I can do and I can fit in well.”
This likely was welcome news to the large contingent of Vikings officials who spent about two hours at dinner with Tomlinson. The group included coach Brad Childress, VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman and even nose tackle Pat Williams. Tomlinson’s agent, Tom Condon, also is in town, putting him in an easy position to negotiate.
Last season, Tomlinson missed two games because of a sprained ankle and finished with career lows in rushing yards (730), carries (223) and receptions (20). He likely realizes that a specialty role would be best for him at this stage of his career. “He still has some juice left in the tank,” Spielman said of Tomlinson earlier in the day at the Gophers’ Pro Day.
Among the most attractive things about the Vikings for Tomlinson is they appear to be in a position to make a run at a Super Bowl title. “(They are) very close,” he said. “They are right at the top of the situation I was looking for when I first said I want to go somewhere and have a chance to win a championship.”
Talks between Tomlinson and the Vikings will continue Thursday, when things will probably get more serious as far as the exact role he would play for a team that is hoping to have Brett Favre back in 2010. “I’m sure he wants to know what our vision is for him, and then our sense for him is will he fit?” Childress said. “From a mindset standpoint, from a physical standpoint, from a systems standpoint.”
Released by the Chargers last month before he was due to get a $2 million bonus, Tomlinson apparently would provide more than an on-field presence.
The Vikings have done their due diligence on Tomlinson and apparently the reviews have been glowing. “He’s a tremendous human being by all accounts,” Childress said. Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, a teammate of Tomlinson’s in San Diego, said in a text message: “L.T. is a tremendous player and an even better person. He would be a great teammate.”
Tomlinson might be one of the NFL’s biggest names but he admits the potential of being teammates with Favre — the quarterback hasn’t decided if he will return — would be “unbelievable,” and “incredible.” “So many years I’ve watched Brett and also played against him and admired him so much,” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson said he has another visit set up for later this week, if he doesn’t sign with the Vikings, but he would not identify the team.
So what does he need to hear from the Vikings on Thursday? “I think it’s a feel that you have to have,” he said. “It’s not necessarily anything you’re going to hear because I’ve heard what I like to hear. I have a role on this team. I think it’s a feel that you have to have.”