NFL: Adding LT instead of keeping Jones makes Jets weaker
By Ian OíConnor
The Record (Hackensack N.J.)
The Jets actually got younger Sunday when they hired a star worthy of the brightest Broadway lights, LaDainian Tomlinson, born 10 months and four days after the running back with a stagehandís profile, a guy named Thomas Jones.
Only in this case younger doesnít mean better. In fact, the Jets wake up Monday softer, more vulnerable and a little harder to picture in next yearís AFC title game.
Mike Tannenbaum, general manager, hired the right people in Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez, the head coach and quarterback of the future.
What was the point in hiring the running back of the past?
I know, I know: Tomlinson is being asked to assume only a supporting role, to mentor Shonn Greene, to catch a few passes out of the backfield and, on a third down here and there, to make those soon-to-be 31-year-old wheels burn like they did in his San Diego prime.
But hereís the best way to judge this Jones-for-Tomlinson trade, even if Jones was fired before Tomlinson decided to bet the twilight of his Hall of Fame career on the Jets:
Who would you rather have on your team, right now, after the 2009 season left the Jetsí 2010 mission statement a Super Bowl-or-bust proposition?
Nine out of 10 doctors (and general managers) agree Jones is the fresher, superior player, and the one more likely to help the Jets scale Mount Peyton next time around.
Listen, Tomlinson is an all-time great. As Bill Parcells said of the original LT, the one who did his dominating on the more hostile side of the ball, heís heading to Canton on roller skates.
Three years ago, Tomlinson was the leagueís best player, good for 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground, 508 yards and three touchdowns through the air. He was fast enough and elusive enough to earn mentions with the idols of his youth: Jim Brown, Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith.
But last time the Jets saw Tomlinson in full pads, he was being booed by his own fans. Out in sunny San Diego, where the fast-breaking Chargers were supposed to run layup lines through the Jets on the way to the Super Bowl, the crowd exploded when Philip Rivers handed off to LT rather than pass his team out of increasingly dire straits.
This was the soundtrack to a legend gone south. Tomlinson gained all of 24 yards on 12 carries in that one-and-done defeat, and looked every bit the washed-up star San Diego suggested he was when it cut him last month.
The Jets courted him, anyway. Treated him like he was 25 years old. Recruited him as if they were the Knicks and he were LeBron James in the early hours of July 1.
Are they trying to sell jerseys and PSLs as they did when they went for Brett Favre? Do they believe this LT can create the kind of buzz in the new stadium the other LT created in the old one?
Hey, the move makes sense for Tomlinson, who didnít need to deal with Favreís diva drama up north. By choosing the Jets over the Vikings, LT gets to spend his golden years chasing a ring with a contender on the come in the biggest of NFL markets. Good luck finding how this move makes sense for the Jets. Jones rushed for a career-best 1,402 yards last year, nearly twice LTís output. Tomlinson averaged a career-worst 3.3 yards per attempt to Jonesí 4.2, and in the one area of the comparison Tomlinson is supposed to own pass receiving LT contributed a grand sum of 20 catches for 154 yards (Jones had 10 for 58).
The Jets didnít want to pay Jones $5.8 million for one year, so they gave Tomlinson less for two. This wasnít the time or place to save money on their league-leading running game, not with Sanchez needing a little more time to grow, and needing reliable legs to carry him through a potential sophomore slump.
NFL running backs have a notoriously short shelf life, and over his career Jones has 841 fewer regular-season carries and receptions than Tomlinson does. Thatís why Jones didnít look finished last year, and why LT did.
The Jets are hoping their latest acquisition can revive himself under another former Charger, Brian Schottenheimer, and give the team insurance against Leon Washingtonís surgically repaired leg. But the best deal here was no deal at all.
In a state of decline, LaDainian Tomlinson makes the Jets a little younger and a lot weaker.