By Jim Trotter
March 11, 2009

After reaching an agreement with running back LaDainian Tomlinson on a three-year restructured contract Tuesday, club president Dean Spanos issued a statement that said: "This is a good day for the Chargers and for Chargers fans. It was important to me to get this done so LT could continue his career here in San Diego where he means so much to our team, our fans and our community. The alternative was just unthinkable. He belongs in San Diego."

If Spanos had stated as much earlier, he could have spared himself months of looking like a bottom-line bumpkin, prevented his general manager from having to issue a public apology for appearing to mock Tomlinson and kept his star player from second-guessing his place in the organization.

But dwelling on those realities diminishes the fact that Spanos, who normally doesn't get directly involved in negotiations, did the right thing by being an active participant in ensuring that Tomlinson will continue his career with the team that drafted him fifth overall in 2001. And it obscures the very real possibility the organization may have developed people skills. The Chargers haven't drafted many Hall of Fame-caliber players in their recent history, but when they have the relationship almost always has ended on bad terms. See Seau, Junior; Harrison, Rodney; O'Neal, Leslie; Winslow Sr., Kellen; Jefferson, John. Tomlinson appeared to be headed down the same highway at the end of last season when The San Diego Union-Tribune reported he might be traded or released after the season. Ownership and management did nothing to silence the talk -- unlike its immediate public support of coach of Norv Turner when people wondered if he was on the hot seat after a 4-8 start.

Tomlinson's last two postseasons had been cut short by injuries and he was coming off a career-low 1,110 yards rushing. Had eight years and an average of 332 carries per season caught up to him? A team has every right to cut or trade a player if it feels the player can no longer perform to a certain level. But someone of Tomlinson's stature deserves to at least be told what the club is thinking, particularly when questions about his future increase exponentially every hour. Were it not for Spanos ultimately sending the message that Tomlinson would be treated differently, the Pro Bowler might be negotiating with another club as we speak.

General manager A.J. Smith loathes Tomlinson's agent, Tom Condon, and would have had no hesitation cutting off talks after Tomlinson passed on their first proposal to cut his pay. Heck, even Tomlinson thought he was headed out of town at the time. The former TCU star was of the impression that the Chargers' offer was take-it-or-leave-it. When he left it, he believed his career in San Diego was probably over. His agent didn't even bother making a counterproposal. When Tomlinson passed on a second proposal two weeks later, the writing on the wall appeared to be in ink. But a team source said Spanos' mandate was to be fair with Tomlinson. In fact, team negotiator Ed McGuire, along with Spanos' youngest son, John, used that exact word fair when they asked Condon to come up with a proposal that would be amenable both sides.

A few days later, the deal was done. "I really appreciate the role Dean played throughout this process," Tomlinson said in a statement issued by the team. "He made it work for everyone, and I appreciate his friendship more than he knows."

Under terms of the new deal, Tomlinson will get all of the $6.725 million he was scheduled to earn this year -- in signing bonus and salary instead of just salary -- and the team will get the salary cap savings it wanted, not just this year but also in 2010 and 2011. Implicit in the new deal is that Tomlinson will be released or traded next offseason if he fails to perform up to expectations this year -- without the handwringing, misunderstandings and hurt feelings that took place the last three months.

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