The Minnesota Vikings wined and dined LaDainian Tomlinson on Wednesday night, then spent much of Thursday meeting with the star running back in hopes of pairing him with Adrian Peterson in what would be a big-name backfield.
Tomlinson emerged from Vikings headquarters on Thursday evening with a purple Vikings jersey in hand, but pulled away in a black limousine without a deal in place. Tomlinson declined to comment to reporters before the limo drove away, but several people with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press that the two sides had yet to reach a deal and Tomlinson was headed to the New York Jets for a visit on Friday. Those people spoke anonymously because talks are ongoing with Tomlinson.
That doesn’t mean the Vikings have lost out on their first choice to replace the departed Chester Taylor as the third-down back behind Peterson. But it does show that Tomlinson is being deliberate and thorough in his first foray into free agency after nine mostly brilliant seasons with the San Diego Chargers.
As Tomlinson chases the Super Bowl appearance that has eluded him so far, he has set his sights early on two teams that advanced to the conference championship games in January and also place an emphasis on the running game.
After visiting the Vikings, who lost to the Saints in the NFC title game, Tomlinson will now visit Rex Ryan and the Jets, who fell to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC title game.
With the Jets, Tomlinson would back up Shonn Greene, who emerged in his rookie season and helped make Thomas Jones expendable in New York. Jones signed with the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this week.
Minnesota lost the dependable Taylor to the Chicago Bears, so it needs an experienced, versatile player behind the All-Pro Peterson. Tomlinson’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and fill in as a capable pass blocker makes him an ideal fit. "I’m sure he wants to know what our vision is for him and then our sense for him is, will he fit? From a mindset standpoint, from a physical standpoint, from a systems standpoint," Vikings coach Brad Childress said Wednesday about the visit.
Tomlinson was released by the Chargers in February. After being drafted in 2001, he skyrocketed to stardom and helped put the Chargers back on the map. He ranks eighth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list with 12,490 yards. His 138 career touchdowns rushing rank second, and his 153 total touchdowns rank third.
But he never reached a Super Bowl in San Diego and age and injuries started to take their toll in recent seasons. Tomlinson will turn 31 in June and is coming off the least productive season of his career. He had 730 yards rushing on 223 carries for an average of 3.3 yards per carry, all career lows. He still managed to score 12 touchdowns, but his role was reduced in an offense that shifted its focus to Philip Rivers and the passing game.
With Peterson already in Minnesota, Tomlinson would not have to be the every-down, do-everything player he was with the Chargers. But the reduced role could put him in a position to get that first Super Bowl.
"It’s the old close but no cigar. That’s what comes to mind," Childress said. "I’m sure as he’s surveying the landscape of people that are approaching he and his agent, that’s always something. You don’t really want to go somewhere and get your brains beat out. You want to go and have a chance to win and compete and win that ultimate prize."
The role could fit him well at this stage of his career. He is an excellent route runner and superb pass catcher, two things Peterson is still working on heading into his fourth season.
Tomlinson also could be intrigued by the possibility of taking handoffs from Brett Favre. The quarterback is still mulling whether to return for a 20th NFL season.
Favre’s return could give the Vikings a slight edge over the Jets, who will have Mark Sanchez returning for a second season under center after a promising rookie year. But the Jets’ stellar offensive line and the fact that they play on grass and not artificial turf, could be attractive for Tomlinson as well.
It was unclear on Thursday night when Tomlinson would make a decision, or if he has any more visits scheduled after the Jets.