Analysis: Pros and cons of L.T. and A.D.

The Vikings are looking at adding LaDainian Tomlinson to their roster. So what are the concerns with the future Hall of Fame running back? There are a couple things that could limit his effectiveness with the Vikings, but his strengths could be just what they are looking for. We weigh both sides of the issue.

Funny how free agency has a way of making some players puff up their chests and feel great and others swallow their pride. It all comes down to the stroke a pen and the signing of a contract.

Some players get what they hoped for and more; others are left to re-evaluate their worth as other players sign and they sit waiting for a phone call from their agent.

While offensive lineman Artis Hicks could be getting his best opportunity to become a full-time starter with the money of Daniel Snyder flowing into Hicks' bank account, a guy who was arguably the league's best running back three years ago, LaDainian Tomlinson, has spent more than two weeks on the free-agent market. The Vikings could decide to pull him off the market before the end of the week if he checks out medically.

While Tomlinson is a future Hall of Fame player and could end up being a good fit to back up Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, there are some concerns the Vikings and Tomlinson have to weigh.

First, of course, is Tomlinson's ability to produce at a high level when needed now that he's in his 30s. After eight consecutive seasons of churning out more than 1,000 yards – including 1,815 yards in 2006 – Tomlinson's health, opportunities and production took a dip the last two years. In 2008, he had fewer than 300 carries for the first time in his career and it led to less than 1,200 yards (1,110) for the first time since he joined the NFL in 2001. In 2009, that production fell even further, as he carried 223 times for 730 yards. He also had the fewest receptions (20) of his career after have a 100-catch seasons in 2003.

But the dip in stats isn't the only concern. After nine years in one system, Tomlinson would be facing a different vernacular if he signed with the Vikings.

"There are two kinds of offenses in the NFL for the most part – the Don Coryell school, which is the three-digit system – that's what Norv Turner runs (in San Diego). There's the West Coast offense – the Bill Walsh school – that's what Brad Childress runs. The language is totally different," NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell told VikingUpdate.com last month. "Yes, Tomlinson is a very smart guy, but he'd have to start over. It would be like you and I all the sudden having to learn a foreign language."

Because of the language differences, Cosell believes that Brian Westbrook, who played in Childress' system in Philadelphia, would have been the more natural fit. But the fact that the Vikings are visiting with Tomlinson on Thursday and not Westbrook indicates that Westbrook's injuries (knee, concussions) and/or his salary requests are too much for the Vikings at this time.

The fact is, both Westbrook and Tomlinson were at the top of their games only a couple years ago, but with the physical abuse a starting running takes, their superstar days are likely behind them.

"I think (Tomlinson) is similar to Westbrook. He's lost his lateral explosiveness, which made him the best back for years, hands down, and a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer," Cosell said.

In Tomlinson's case, there is also the matter of being willing to work behind Adrian Peterson. When Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown raved about Peterson in a Sports Illustrated article, it pushed Tomlinson's buttons.

"Jim Brown was telling Peterson he's the best runner he'd seen in a long time. I was sitting there reading it thinking, 'Wow,'" Tomlinson told the L.A. Times before the 2009 season started. ""The difference with me is you can put me out on that field and there will be nothing I can't do. I won't have to come off the field. Adrian has to come off sometimes on third down. Running routes, he's still not there yet. Great downhill runner, powerful, fast, all that stuff. …

"But anything on that field you want me to do – throw it, block – I can do it. That's what I pride myself on is not having any weaknesses. And that's what makes me the best back."

Childress didn't join the battle or words, but he defended Peterson, calling him the best running back and best player in the NFL.

While Peterson had outrushed Tomlinson 3,101 to 2,581 in his first two years in the league, Tomlinson had a point about being able to do more than Peterson. In 2007 and 2008, Tomlinson averaged 56 receptions while Peterson averaged only 20.

So if the Vikings are looking for a third-down back, Tomlinson's receiving and blocking abilities could be just what the Vikings desire if he can return to that sort of production with a limited role.

And if the competition between Tomlinson and Peterson is a healthy one.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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