Running Out of Steam: The Release of Key NFL Running Backs

LaDainian Tomlinson’s release from the San Diego Chargers has to leave us thinking. Brian Westbrook’s release from the Philadelphia Eagles has to leave us thinking even more. At the age of 30, Tomlinson and Westbrook are considered young men but the future ahead seems uncertain for both players. ESPN reports, the number of yards posted by running backs dwindles so drastically as age increases, that by the age of 31 only 18 percent posts 1,000 or more yards in a year.

In a new football model throughout the league that calls for multiple running backs, one back (usually the older one) is constantly being replaced by a younger back. For example, in Dallas Julius Jones shared the workload with Marion Barber; Barber eventually replaced Jones. Currently in Dallas Barber shares the workload with both Felix Jones and Tashard Choice; it might be only a matter of time before Barber is replaced as well.

As far as the immediate future is concerned, Tomlinson and Westbrook are both prolific players who are nearly guaranteed the opportunity to play for another team in the 2010-2011 season. What is not as certain is what kind of success either back will have statistically.

If either back fails to have as much success as he did with his former team after being released or traded, it unfortunately will not be a new trend. Do these names ring a bell: Edgerrin James, Emmitt Smith and Shaun Alexander? All three names are as respected at the running back position as Tomlinson and Westbrook, but all three were also released by their respective teams because of declining rushing numbers, increasing salary prices, injuries and the competition from increasing talent at the running back position.

For running backs that have been the faces of their organizations, being cast aside and forced to find a new home has to be quite a sobering part of the business but at least there is consolation for those who do not get to walk out on the game like Barry Sanders did. Emmitt Smith was able to retire a Cowboy and LaDainian has been promised to retire a Charger—perhaps there is something as equally promising from other organization for other players who have given so much to their team for the majority of their careers.


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