Let's begin with an assessment that many people who I've spoken with this week agree on: Tomlinson simply is not the same running back that he once was. Can he still digest a playbook, catch a pass, set a block and find the end zone? No doubt. Can he run? Not with as much consistency as he could as little as three years ago. Does he still have breakaway speed? If he does, he hasn't shown it lately. The overriding belief is that Tomlinson can still be an effective back, but not for nearly the amount of work he'd like. He is -- at best -- a tandem-situation running back.
So, who could use a split-time rusher with a wealth of experience? Lots of teams, but you can be sure that Tomlinson won't chase dollar Bills like Terrell Owens did last year and sign with a team with little chance of making the postseason. Tomlinson, like most other players, wants a championship. He'll want to play somewhere where that can happen.
With those parameters in place, here are some candidates for Tomlinson upon his release from San Diego (in alphabetical order):
Houston: They're on the brink of competing for at least a wild card berth, and they'd have to win every game possible just to have a shot at breaking the Colts' hammerlock at the top of the division (beating them sure would help). Tomlinson has the skill set to be successful in Houston, and he's a Texas native to boot.
New England: Bill Belichick loves veterans looking for a final shot at glory, and there's no doubt that he has profound respect for Tomlinson. Whether or not he has respect for Tomlinson's skills is another story altogether, not to mention having the space amid a crowded running back corps for him.
Philadelphia: If Brian Westbrook is headed the way of Isaac Bruce and Kurt Warner, then Tomlinson would be a neat one-year insurance policy in case LeSean McCoy can't pick up the slack. True, this would be a nightmare for Fantasy owners who are waiting for McCoy to pop in 2010 but the Eagles weren't shy about using three backs last season and could easily do it again. Like in Houston, Tomlinson has the right skill set for the Eagles.
Pittsburgh: Tomlinson wouldn't have much of a chance to start with the Steelers, but being a 10-carry-per-game guy behind Rashard Mendenhall would be a nice fit for him. He'd be a heck of an upgrade over Willie Parker.
There are other spots too -- Cleveland, Detroit, Seattle -- that could be interested in Tomlinson, but they're not playoff contenders.
And there's one last place where L.T. could be wanted -- maybe -- and that's San Diego. Norv Turner was mum on the L.T. topic with me when I asked him about it last week, but Tomlinson is the one saying he'll refuse a pay cut. It's not a case of the team saying "get outta here." If Tomlinson did an about face and accepted an, ahem, salary correction, then he'd probably get a chance to stay and maybe even get 250 touches. And last I checked, the Chargers were a playoff contender.
Seems like a great fit to me.