LaDainian Tomlinson was released by the San Diego Chargers a little while ago.
And that got me to thinking. Tomlinson, 30, will be looking for a new team in his 10th NFL season. His statistics the past two seasons suggest he is a diminished player, a running back whose explosion and speed have apparently left him.
I guess 2,880 career carries takes a toll.
And that suggests that it is carries, not years, that diminish a running back.
I present as exhibit A, Ricky Williams. He is two years older than Tomlinson. And yet in 2009, while Tomlinson slowed to a crawl, Williams had a renaissance year with 1,121 yards on 241 carries. That's a 4.7 average at age 32 compared to Tomlinson's 3.3 yard per carry average at age 30.
So how does Ricky do it? Is it the veggie diet? The yoga? Or is it simply fewer career carries?
Williams has only 2,164 career rushes, thanks in large part to having played only one game in 2006-2007 and having missed 2004 altogether.
Clearly, the older player in this comparison is not nearly as physically worn as the younger.
But my concern is not the last 2,164 carries by Williams but rather the next 300-500.
You see, if Williams has indeed benefitted from his limited use since 2003 and thus has maintained a rushing average of 4.4 yards per carry in his last 575 carries spanning four seasons, the question arises, "How much longer can he keep it up?"
Tomlinson began his decline at around 2,300 carries. In fact, after his 2,365th carry he had only eight games out of a possible 30 in which he averaged 4.0 yards per carry or more.
Williams is about one season from reaching his 2,300th carry -- assuming he continues sharing caries with Ronnie Brown. Would his declined begin then, at age 33?
No one knows. But it is a fair question to consider.
Also consider this: Williams is signed through 2010 but not beyond. He is on record stating this will be his final season. But we all know Williams is more than capable of changing his mind.
The question is would the Dolphins be wise to start planning for life after Ricky Williams now, knowing he's still running like he did in his prime? Or can this wait another year and maybe another 200 carries?
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