Salary Cap Repercussions
If the Chargers draft a running back at No. 16, they would by tying up an obscene amount of money in the running back position. LaDainian Tomlinson, even after restructuring his contract, will count approximately $7.5 million against the cap in 2009. Darren Sproles will count an additional $6.6 million, unless he and the team work out a long-term deal before the season begins.
Last year's No. 16 pick, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, signed a six-year, $16 million contract. If the Chargers sign a rookie running back at that slotted value, they would be allocating close to $17 million in cap space to the running back position. That number would be $1 million higher if the Chargers keep Michael Bennett.
Drafting a running back in Round One would likely knock Michael Bennett off the roster.
Last season, Tomlinson carried a career-low 292 times. That number was abnormally low for three reasons: 1) he was injured; 2) the offense was on the field less (ranking No. 24 in time of possession); and 3) the team was often playing catch-up, thanks to its No. 25-ranked defense. LT was spelled by Sproles, who carried 61 times.
It's tough to imagine a healthy LT logging less than 250 carries, especially given his new incentive-laden contract. It's also difficult to imagine Sproles' touches decreasing after his breakout showing. Throw in the carries that will go to the fullback (most notably hybrid RB Jacob Hester), and that leaves only token carries.
Public Relations Nightmare
The Bolts sidestepped a landmine by getting LT to agree to a new three-year deal. The franchise -- and in particular, GM A.J. Smith -- was getting killed for mistreating arguably the best player in franchise history. Now that LT has taken one for the team, it would be an egregious affront to draft his replacement a few short months later.
If the Chargers draft a running back at No. 16, Tomlinson's future with the team will immediately be thrown back into question. In essence, it would make 2009 his final year with the team (he's due a $2 million roster bonus in March 2010; there's no way the team pays that with Moreno or Wells on the roster). The story of the season would be Tomlinson's swan-song rather than the Chargers' pursuit of the Lombardi Trophy.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.