Tuesday February 23rd, 2010

And now for something completely different: The San Diego Chargers not only did the right thing with LaDainian Tomlinson, they did the right thing at the right time. The next time a team has to deal with releasing a legendary player in decline, club officials should go to school and learn how Dean Spanos and A.J. Smith cut the cord with the eighth-leading rusher of all time.

Given the 30-year-old back's plummeting résumé -- 5.2 yards per rush in 2006, to 4.7, 3.8 and 3.3 in the last three years -- and taking into account LT still believing he should be a team's main running back, Spanos and Smith knew it would be untenable to keep him. In the high-powered offense coach Norv Turner runs, they knew they couldn't tolerate a back who still wanted to be a major presence but couldn't deliver like one. And Tomlinson had been such a standup guy, such a great player and person for the franchise, they had no stomach to try to convince him to be a strict backup while they went out to find their back of the future.

So, with the NFL combine set to begin this week -- which is the only time all season that all coaches, general managers and agents are in one place at one time -- Spanos called LT around noon Monday. He asked him to come in for a meeting, had the meeting, and then Tomlinson went down the hall and met with the two other decision-makers (Turner and Smith) individually, and they all said their goodbyes. No leaks, no embarrassment, no they-showed-me-no-respect stuff. That's called doing the right thing.

"I just didn't think it was right to try to trade him for something, to see how people judged his value and then to possibly trade him for something that was far from what he meant to us,'' Smith told me Monday night. "It just wasn't right. And by doing it now, we give his agent the chance to see everyone at the combine. It's very difficult, very sad. But we all know football isn't forever. It just became a situation where we wanted to do the right thing for everyone.''

I tell you that because, obviously, it doesn't happen that way often.

Now Tomlinson's agent, Tom Condon, can begin trying to find a new home for LT, working the lobbies at the downtown Indianapolis hotels and the concourses at Lucas Oil Stadium, where the combine drills will take place.

Now onto your e-mail:

BUCS AND BUCKS ... From Aaron Monroe, of Tampa: "In honor of your foray to the World Cup this summer (I plan on being there as well to see my first cup games live), I have a question that combines both soccer and the NFL. In MMQB you mentioned about the Bucs shedding payroll rapidly. It's apparent that the product we have here in Tampa isn't as good, but no one seems to honestly talk about why. The Bucs have one of the lowest payrolls in the NFL and lots of 2010 draft picks, yet Mark Dominik has said they are not players in free agency. Passing on Vince Wilfork, Julius Peppers, Richard Seymour. No effort to sign Donte Stallworth or even Mike Vick last year, both coming with minimum cost exposure. Isn't the real reason they're staying on the sidelines because they have all their available cash tied up in a financial disaster with Man U and, a reality that's destroying their NFL product? Robbing Peter to pay Paul so to speak. Is anyone in the league office monitoring the situation with the Glazers and Manchester United?''

That's a commonly held belief by a lot of people around the league, but I checked this morning, and I can tell you there's no evidence to suggest the Glazers are taking, for example, any chunk of their $95 million annual network TV money and funneling it to pay down their debt with Manchester United. In their (slight) defense, it's not the smartest thing to spend big money on an overall poor crop of unrestricted free-agents. I doubt the Bucs would be in contention for Julius Peppers, who, unless the money is very different, will have a lucrative chance to play for a good team like New England. Right now, Tampa's a building team, not a good one.

YOU MAKE A GOOD POINT. THANK YOU. From Rick H. of Okemos, Mich.: "Hi Peter. Love your column, but I've got to call you out on your latest one. You've argued a strong case all year about the need to protect football players from concussions. So I was surprised to see you praising Anya Paerson's comeback a day after her brutal crash. After saying that the sport is more dangerous than NASCAR, that Paerson should have gone to the hospital and that her head was still ringing the next day, you wrote that her strong will to compete is what the Olympics are all about. She may not have had a concussion, but your column implied that she could have had one and that competing in spite of her injuries is to be admired.''

Agreed. That's a double-standard on my part. The only thing I'd say is that she was cleared by a physician to ski, and this might be the last Olympics of her career. But overall, I should have paid more attention to my recent NFL-related principles. Good call.

INTERESTING IDEA. From Rick Gagliardo of Pinehurst, N.C.: "Re: the logjam at the HOF ... I've been thinking about the five- to seven-person limit allowed each year, and I've wondered if that was in the original by-laws when the Hall was founded in 1963. I ask because I've been running some things through my head.

"In 1962 there were only 14 teams in the NFL. When the first group of men was voted in, these men, by and large, played in a league with eight teams. If you consider a team as having a 40 man roster -- which I'm sure it didn't most of the time -- it's a stretch to say that as many as 320 men comprised the entire league. After Cleveland and Baltimore were incorporated and Dallas and Minnesota were added in 1960, the NFL stood at 14 teams and 560 players in 1962. With 32 teams now...

"I would suggest increasing the induction number to seven to 10 a year. Second, the 7-10 should never include owners, commissioners, writers or anyone else whose career wasn't defined as a player or coach. These people could be elected under a separate category with one to two eligible per year. Third, increase the number of eligible 'Old-timers' from two to three. (I apologize for forgetting the correct term wrong. No slight intended.)''

Lot of interesting points there, Rick. First, the number has changed a few times over the years, most recently where the maximum number of modern-era candidates in a year dipped from six to five, and the number of Senior candidates increased from one to two, done to address the large backlog of players in the league's first 60 years whose careers may have been forgotten or glossed over.

I think the overriding theme of your letter is that you'd like to see more players inducted, because so many deserve it. As my Sirius Radio friend Bob Papa has suggested, maybe we should have a year or two of much larger classes, to get those the majority of the committee feel are Hall-of-Famers (Dermontti Dawson, Cris Carter, Richard Dent, Shannon Sharpe) off the bubble they've occupied because of the great quality of the modern classes. You may not like my answer, but I don't want to do that. It should be hard, very hard, to get into any Hall of Fame, and who is to say if we admit 12 people in 2011 and 2012 that it won't spawn a whole new class (a slightly lower class) of candidates that we'll be pushed to admit.

I see the math, and it's daunting. The best thing we can do is keep making it difficult to get in and do the best we can each year, and eventually the deserving players will get in. The one thing I am in favor of changing is adding a contributors category, to cover all commissioners, owners and front-office people. I'd prefer to have one Seniors nominee every year and one Contributors nominee, in addition to five Modern-Era candidates, which would be comprised of former players and coaches.

A TOUCHING TRIBUTE TO DR. Z. From Brandon Pennington of Martinsburg, W.Va.: "I enjoy your column very much, especially, and most surprisingly, the parts that have nothing to do with football. I like to hear about how Dr. Z is doing. I always thought poorly of his prognostications. However I have a new appreciation. My oldest son (16 months now) was born after suffering an in-utero stroke. I watch Dr. Z's progress with anticipation. I kind of use him to gauge my son's progress.

"Send Dr. Z my family's warm wishes, and please keep us updated on his progress. If Dr. Z would like to hear it, my son Sawyer is 16 months old, almost entirely blind, has left side weakness (hemeoparesis), and as of yet has not developed any language skills. I know Dr. Z is struggling to regain what he lost, but Sawyer never had language skills, so developing them is very hard. I read every update on Dr. Z hoping to hear he has regained his vocabulary. My little guy has a hard road ahead, and Dr. Z gives me some hope for him. Our vision therapist thinks Sawyer is gaining sight and his physical therapist has helped us develop some usefulness in his left hand. Thanks to you for being a caring person and sharing Dr. Z's journey with us.''

Wow. Brandon, please know that when I see Zim next week I'm going to read him your letter. It is powerful, and I feel for you. All the best, and good luck fighting the fight that is really important.

AND ONE MORE FOR THE Z-MAN. From Matt Kuhns of Lakewood, Ohio: "Thank you for another note on Dr. Z! New Orleans recovered from a cataclysmic hurricane and brought home a Super Bowl trophy. I think Z is next on the list of comebacks we need to see.''

Amen, brother.

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