The San Diego Chargers landed a new running back – um, yeah, not one that Chargers’ fans have ever heard of or want to ever see in the starting lineup.

Yeah, while the division-rival Kansas City Chiefs were landing 1,400-yard rusher Thomas Jones at a below market-level price for a back with five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, the Chargers were plucking Marcus Mason off the waiver wire.

Marcus Mason?  Really?

Mason, who turns 26 in June, had 127 rushing yards for the Washington Redskins last season. He originally joined the Redskins as an undrafted free agent following the 2007 NFL Draft. He finished his college career at Youngstown State after beginning it with Illinois.

Mason has spent most of the last three years on practice squads of NFL teams – the Redskins, Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets. That background of bouncing between practice squads hardly evokes images of an NFL starting back.

Jones would have been the perfect fit for a Chargers’ squad that is still supposed to be a Super Bowl contender next season. Passing on Jones indicates the Chargers are planning to find LaDainian Tomlinson’s successor in April’s NFL Draft.

Clemson’s C.J. Spiller will be gone when the Chargers pick in the latter stages of the first round. The next-best back in this draft, according to me, is Ryan Mathews of Fresno State, who coincidentally wore No. 21 (Tomlinson’s number) while starring for the Bulldogs.

Figuring out whether the Chargers are preparing for one last playoff run or preparing to rebuild is tough to figure right now. But study the list of key players that have departed from the squad that reached the AFC Championship Game just 26 months ago and you have to wonder what direction the organization is heading.

Gone are running backs Tomlinson, Michael Turner and Lorenzo Neal; receiver Chris Chambers, tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, offensive linemen Mike Goff and Shane Olivea; defensive linemen Jamal Williams and Igor Olshansky, linebacker Matt Wilhelm, cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Drayton Florence, safeties Clinton Hart and Marlon McCree and special teams standout Kassim Osgood.

That’s a lot of talent out the door over the past two-plus years. Those Chargers’ fans who are worrying that the window is going to close without the Chargers reaching a Super Bowl – five playoff appearances in the last six seasons with only one trip to the AFC title game – have good reason to be concerned.

Meanwhile, the other AFC West teams are closing the gap. The Chiefs not only signed Jones, but re-signed Chambers earlier this week. The Denver Broncos agreed to terms with Williams, one of the top defensive linemen in Chargers history, on Tuesday.

The Chargers? They have been busying finding packing boxes for the latest round of players being shown the door.

But have no fear, Marcus Mason is here.



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