SAN DIEGO -- The Chargers appear to be bracing their fans for the possibility that LaDainian Tomlinson's brilliant eight-year run with the team could be over.
According to the team's Web site, club president Dean Spanos called the star running back Thursday to discuss reports that the Chargers might part with Tomlinson, who has been slowed by injuries in the last two playoffs and will count $8.8 million against the salary cap next season.
"We talked about the situation, and I just tried to explain everything that must be considered," Spanos said in a story detailing the offseason decisions the team must make. "I told him we haven't even started our discussions and won't for a while, so don't jump to any conclusions. And I told him I would call him personally to make sure he's aware of everything that's going on."
Tomlinson, the NFL MVP in 2006, missed the Chargers' playoff loss at Pittsburgh on Sunday with a groin injury. That, coupled with the lowest rushing total of his career, has led to speculation that the team might try to trade or even release L.T.
Tomlinson, who turns 30 in June, is under contract through 2011. Slowed by toe and groin injuries, he gained a career-low 1,110 yards in 2008. Two seasons earlier, he set NFL records with 31 touchdowns -- including 28 rushing -- and 186 points.
The team declined to make Spanos available for further comment. Tomlinson didn't immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Tomlinson hurt his groin in the regular-season finale against the Denver Broncos on Dec. 28. He started the wild-card playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts but came out after scoring a touchdown early in the second quarter. The Chargers went on to beat the Colts 23-17 in overtime, carried by backup running back Darren Sproles' 328 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner.
Tomlinson didn't suit up against Pittsburgh, which beat San Diego 35-24. The Steelers held Sproles, who'll become an unrestricted free agent, to 15 yards on 11 carries.
Four days later, Tomlinson confirmed that he had a detached tendon and practically scoffed at the team's public diagnosis.
"If it was a strain, I'd be able to play with it, trust me," Tomlinson said. "A lot of guys have strains."
Chargers general manager A.J. Smith was livid that the severity of Tomlinson's injury was revealed and called out the player's camp.
One year ago, Tomlinson missed most of the AFC Championship Game at New England with a sprained ligament in his left knee. He stood glumly on the sidelines huddled in a parka, wearing his helmet with a tinted visor. Some people criticized Tomlinson's toughness, but the Chargers themselves had provided an overly optimistic update on his injury, announcing in the press box early in the second quarter that the running back had a "sore knee" and that he "can return."
"It's obvious that I couldn't play," Tomlinson said afterward. "If I could have played, I would have been in there."
Tomlinson's agent, Tom Condon, has declined comment.
Condon clients -- notably coach Marty Schottenheimer, linebacker Donnie Edwards and quarterback Eli Manning -- have been at odds with Smith in the past.
Schottenheimer was fired as San Diego's coach in February 2007 because of what Spanos called a "dysfunctional situation" with Smith. Edwards, who led the Chargers in tackles for five straight seasons, fell into disfavor with Smith, apparently for asking one time too many for a contract extension, and was allowed to leave as an unrestricted free agent following the 2006 season.
Three days before the 2004 draft, Smith revealed that Archie Manning, through Condon, didn't want his son, Eli, to be taken by the Chargers with the No. 1 overall pick. Smith picked Manning anyway, then dealt him to the New York Giants for Philip Rivers and a haul of picks that he used to select kicker Nate Kaeding in that draft and star outside linebacker Shawne Merriman in the first round of the 2005 draft.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press