For all the attention surrounding Thomas Jones’ departure and LaDainian Tomlinson’s arrival, let’s keep one thing in mind. Despite the big-name aura surrounding both players, we’re talking about a backup running back position for the Jets.
I’m not saying the out-with-one-proven-veteran-and-in-with-another is not an important part of the Jets’ roster situation for the 2010 season. But this is not the move that will be the deciding factor in whether the Jets can take the next step in their quest for a Super Bowl championship.
The running back who holds the answer to that question was not a factor in this latest game of musical running backs. Shonn Greene is already on the roster, and he’s the guy that will make the Jets’ running game go.
Whether it was Jones or Tomlinson, Greene is the one who will determine whether the Jets repeat as the league’s No. 1 rushing attack and make another legitimate playoff run, or whether they suffer a letdown that is not atypical in a league where parity still rules the day.
That’s not to say the L.T.-for-Jones transaction isn’t important. It is. The tradeoff will figure not only into what happens on the field, but what happens in the locker room, too. Jones was arguably the best locker room guy on the entire team, and his loss will not easily be offset.
But Tomlinson was also a highly respected figure in the Chargers’ room, and it’s expected that his future Hall of Fame presence with the Jets will go a long way toward making up for Jones’ loss. He'll also be a worthy mentor for Greene, who was tutored quite well last season by Jones.
Of more immediate concern is what happens on the field, of course. And there’s no way of telling whether the Jets’ belief that Jones was about to fall off a cliff production-wise will turn out to be true. Or whether their gamble that Tomlinson will be any better than he was last year, the worst statistical season of his career, will pan out.
Jones (1,402) rushed for nearly twice the yardage as Tomlinson (730), but he did so behind an offensive line widely regarded as the best in pro football. If Tomlinson can take advantage of the blocking offered by the Jets, then there’s a chance he’ll at least provide a change-of-pace from the bruising Greene to make the Jets’ offense better. And I do think Tomlinson can thrive in a role where he isn’t the feature back, as long as he makes the psychological adjustment from being the go-to guy the first nine years of his career. But at age 30 and heading into his 10th season, he is not the force he once was.
Jones, meanwhile, gets his fresh start with the Chiefs, who signed him to a two-year deal. And he will no doubt be anxious to prove the Jets made a mistake by letting him go. Same with Tomlinson, who will try and show the Chargers they gave up on him too soon.
But if this season will be another special one for the Jets, it’s not going to be about what Tomlinson does. It’s all about the guy he’ll be playing behind.