x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Age no bar for LaDanian Tomlinson

The New York Jets veteran is proving that running backs can indeed play longer in their careers.

LaDainian Tomlinson, No 21, has done well since moving to the New York Jets.
LaDainian Tomlinson, No 21, has done well since moving to the New York Jets.

The average career of an NFL running back covers 2.57 seasons, briefer than any other position. That means LaDainian Tomlinson and Thomas Jones are playing on borrowed time.

Both greybeards were cut a week apart in the off season for similar reasons. Tomlinson, a likely Hall of Famer, was fresh off his worst season after nearly a decade with San Diego and was due a US$2 million (Dh7.34m) roster bonus. Jones - though productive with the New York Jets, his fourth employer - would have received a US$3m bonus.

NFL personnel chiefs rely on actuary tables, not just finances and the eye test, to assemble rosters. For running backs, once they generate a few good years, teams are looking for the next guy.

The Jets thought Tomlinson could provide relief for young Shonn Greene and got him, by league standards, on the cheap.

They could not have expected LT to immerse himself in power-lifting, which enables him to haul around an SUV-sized chip on his shoulder pad for the Chargers.

After six games, five of them wins, Tomlinson has bulled into the background of the MVP picture as well as Comeback Player of the Year. With 490 rushing yards this season (at 5.3 per carry), he ranks seventh in the league. With 12,980 as a pro, he ranks seventh all-time.

"I know what age I am," said Tomlinson, 31. "But it doesn't mean I can't play. Some players just defy the odds, and I like to say that I'm that type of player."

Tomlinson, bitter at the Chargers, should be grateful to them. Had he stayed, his career would have remained in free-fall in coach Norv Turner's pass-first offence. "I tried to do the things they wanted me to do, but it just didn't work out."

Well, the Chargers did not exactly want him to go down upon initial contact, but that was Tomlinson's tendency last year as he coped with a sprained ankle. Now, rejuvenated by the weight programme and driven by animosity, Tomlinson is running through tacklers.

"It is a better fit for me here," he said. "This team uses me the right way."

The Jets' parting with Jones was more amiable. They purchased a full-page ad, conveying best wishes, in the Kansas City newspaper when the Chiefs signed him.

Like Tomlinson, Jones was expected to supplement a promising young tailback, Jamaal Charles.