I see LaDanian Tomlinson has a chance to reach 100 yards when he gets his first opportunity to play against the San Diego Chargers.

Oh no, not 100 yards in Sunday’s game between the Chargers and the New York Jets. But 100 yards for the season.

The stats don’t lie – the former Chargers’ star has just 97 rushing yards this season – and he owns a skimpy 3.3 yards per carry.

Yes, I double-checked it twice – even a third time – and it just feels sad to see the depth of Tomlinson’s decline.

It is distressing to see the one-time best running back in the game hanging on like a journeyman with production that resembles what you could get from an undrafted free agent making the NFL minimum.

The 2011 version of Tomlinson is nothing like the Hall of Fame version who excelled for the Chargers all those years and set the all-time record of 31 touchdowns during his epic 2006 NFL MVP season.

Looks like I may have to give Tomlinson the same advice I wrote on these pages to Trevor Hoffman when the former San Diego Padres star was getting hammered every time he stepped on the mound in 2010 for the Milwaukee Brewers.

I can sum it up for Tomlinson in one word: Retire.

Imagine the young fans just getting familiar with the NFL wondering what all the fuss is about over the guy wearing No. 21 for the Jets. They see a past-his-prime guy backing up Shonn Greene on a team that ranks next-to-last in the NFL in rushing at a meager 80.8 yards per game.

We’ve seen this occur before in the NFL when a star player hangs on a bit too long and it’s always a bit unpleasant.

Imagine the fans that only saw all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith as the guy who gained 256 yards and averaged 2.8 yards per carry for the 2003 Arizona Cardinals. They would find it hard to believe that Smith once averaged 5.3 yards in a season and topped 1,400 yards in five consecutive seasons.

Franco Harris suiting up for the 1984 Seattle Seahawks is another sad case. The guy who recorded eight 1,000-yard seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers had all of 170 yards and a 2.5 average in his lone season with Seattle.

San Diegans have seen this happen with the Chargers too. The franchise brought in a washed-up Johnny Unitas in 1973 to be the quarterback well after his knees have given out. Unitas threw seven interceptions in 76 passes before mercifully finding a spot on the bench to finish out his stellar career.

And what about linebacker Junior Seau? He was one of the top defensive players in the 1990s but he had clearly dropped a few notches when the Chargers decided to move on without him in 2002. He played seven more seasons with the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots before finally leaving football behind.

There is a generation of current football fans who only know of Seau as this journeyman guy on the Patriots who seemed a step slow all the time. That’s pretty sad.

Anyway, Tomlinson is closing in on that same path if he isn’t smart enough to leave the game after this season. He is a sure Hall of Famer who has made millions playing the game and you’d like to see him move on before he’s remembered for the final part of his career as opposed to the guy who put together eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

Asked Thursday by reporters about this possibly being his final season, Tomlinson said the following:

“I don’t want you to think I’m planning on retirement but the situation may come to that. I’m not thinking about retiring. I definitely want to continue to play.”

The key nugget there is “the situation may come to that.”

Tomlinson deserves better than to be shown the door to end his career. He was already rudely shown the exit by the Chargers in 2009 and he deserves to walk away from the game on his terms, not by being cut again.

I covered Tomlinson for a few years in the latter part of his time with the Chargers and he wasn’t the cheerful person he had been at the beginning of his career. All the nonsense within the organization was wearing on him – the team hung him out to dry publicly when a knee injury sidelined him for most of the 2007 AFC title game against the New England Patriots – and he was highly distressed that Norv Turner felt the Chargers’ chances of winning hinged more on Philip Rivers’ arm than his legs.

There is no longer any debate. That paltry 3.3 average and not even having 100 rushing yards as the seventh game approaches says it all.

Particularly when you consider Tomlinson averaged 113.4 yards per game in 2006 when he had one of the top all-time seasons in football history.

For Tomlinson, it’s time to take the Hoffman route and call it a career.

We’ll see what happens but I’m hoping the player who currently ranks sixth in NFL history in rushing yards feels that way too when the season concludes.


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