With the San Diego Chargers having released RB LaDainian Tomlinson and with RB Chester Taylor set to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) on March 5, the debate about which RB Vikings fans would rather have is already raging.
In fact, ESPN.com’s NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert raises an interesting scenario involving the 2 RBs and 2 NFC North teams.
First of all, though, I want to clear up some confusion I’ve encountered when discussing this with several people. As we explained in our Basics of the Uncapped Year piece from last week, the top 4 teams from the 2009 season (Colts, Jets, Saints and Vikings) have restrictions in the number of UFAs they may sign. The detail I wasn’t aware of until yesterday, however, is that these restrictions limit the number of UFAs who have expired contracts, not who became UFAs because a team released them.
To make this clearer, let’s take a look at 2 players who will hit the open market on March 5 as UFAs: DE Julius Peppers and Tomlinson. Peppers will be a UFA because his contract with the Carolina Panthers will expire in March, therefore the top 4 teams from last season will not be able to sign Peppers until they lose one of their own UFAs to another team. Tomlinson, on the other hand, has become a free agent because the Chargers released him, not because his contract expired, and therefore any NFL team is able to sign him.
[UPDATE: Originally in this posting I referred to Tomlinson as a UFA, which was incorrect. Since Tomlinson was released from the Chargers with years remaining on his contract, he actually becomes a free agent (FA) rather than having the tag as an "unrestricted" free agent, or UFA]
With the details out of the way and with the knowledge that the Vikings could in theory pursue Tomlinson, let’s examine the situation from the Vikings perspective. Both players are 30 years old and would fulfill the same role for the Vikings as the 2010 season approaches – a complement to starter Adrian Peterson. As we know by following the Vikings lately, however, being the backup RB in Minnesota does not relegate your role to just an insurance policy. Taylor has been a key piece to the Vikings offense since signing here in 2006 and also since Peterson was drafted in 2007.
“Chester Taylor brings so much to this football team,” Vikings VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman said last week. “He’s like the unsung hero of the offense. You hear about Sidney Rice and Shank (Visanthe Shiancoe) and Percy Harvin and Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson. But what Chester Taylor does for this football team – not only on the field but off the field – he may be, as we look and we evaluate all the free agents out there, one of the top free-agent backs coming out.”
Since Peterson was drafted by the Vikings in 2007, Taylor has 362 carries and he’s gained 4.6 yards per carry. So, the Vikings have taken 352 carries off of Peterson’s workload (that’s a whole season’s worth of carries) over the past 3 seasons and they’ve still gained 4.6 yards on each of those carries. In addition, Taylor has been a valuable contributor in the passing game and on specifically on 3rd downs for the Vikings.
Given Tomlinson’s skill set, he could fill the same role as Peterson’s backup in Minnesota. Tomlinson is a skilled receiver out of the backfield and although at one point LT was the NFL’s best RB, he’s now better-suited to play second fiddle to a starter because of the wear and tear on his body after 2,880 carries in 9 pro seasons.
Perhaps the option of bringing Taylor back is Minnesota’s preferred outcome. Taylor is completely familiar with the Vikings offense, he’s already excelling in the #2 RB role here and he doesn’t have the wear and tear on his body that Tomlinson has.
Or is Tomlinson’s upside enough to make signing him the Vikings preferred outcome? LT is a 2-time NFL rushing champion and 1-time NFL MVP. Teams considering signing LT must decide whether his decline in production over the past 2 seasons is the function of a declining skill set or the function of sharing carries with Darren Sproles.
We must also mention there is one important factor we don’t know at this point – the asking price. We don’t know how much Taylor and Tomlinson will be seeking in their next contracts.
I have no inside knowledge as to what the Vikings plan or prefer to do in this scenario, but my guess is the preferred outcome is to re-sign Taylor. As I stated above, Taylor is already comfortable here in Minnesota and knows the Vikings offense well. He also has less wear and tear on his body and he hasn’t dealt with injuries to the extent that LT has, especially over the past couple of seasons.
If I had to make the choice, I’d go with #29.
But I could be wrong, and I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be excited to have LT on the Vikings roster for the 2010 season.
What do you think? Leave a comment below and we’ll revisit this issue soon…
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Chester Taylor
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 34 Comments »