What is it with these veteran rushers? Can't they go someplace where they won't impede burgeoning fantasy stars? First Chester Taylor eschews options such as the Houston Texans or San Diego Chargers to go to the Chicago Bears, where Matt Forte's fantasy owners were hoping against hope that Forte would thrive under new offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Then Thomas Jones rains on Jamaal Charles' fantasy parade, taking short money to play for a bad team in a non-starting role. And now the guy who probably stands as the fantasy football MVP of the 2000s, LaDainian Tomlinson, is in New York to haunt Shonn Greene.
Tomlinson has signed a two-year deal to play for the Jets, instantly muddying what looked like rather clear waters for Mr. Greene. When Jones was jettisoned from Gotham, suddenly Greene looked like he'd be a plow horse, a 20-carry-per-game guy who'd be his own goal-line option, and would probably come out of the game only on passing downs. There was a groundswell to consider Greene in the first round of fantasy drafts, a temptation that we at the Worldwide Leader fortunately never succumbed to, because now Greene's value looks shakier.
Don't get me wrong. I was the guy begging you not to draft LDT last season, the guy who thought his legs were done at the end of '08. I don't think Tomlinson will suddenly recapture past glory and warrant double-digit carries each week. But he is still a very good pass-catcher, and he does have a ridiculous record of performance on the goal line. He's going to be involved. There are going to be weeks in which he steals points-rich touches from Greene, and we're going to wring our hands.
But you know what? After I heard about this move, I thought about it, and I didn't lower Greene one notch from where I had him: 13th among running backs, and 24th overall. Do I believe Tomlinson is going to steal some touchdowns? Sure I do. Will Greene wind up with fewer rushing yards because LDT is around? Probably. But Tomlinson just isn't a big-play threat anymore, and if Greene's impressive playoff run this January showed us anything, it's that he's not merely the plodder it sometimes seemed he might be when he was a draft prospect coming out of the University of Iowa. He has a little bit of juke, and some really nice acceleration. I believe he's still going to wind up being the guy the Jets ride behind that wonderful offensive line. What this move does to his fantasy value is inject some downside. And I think maybe that winds up being kind of a good thing. It'll temper expectations, so nobody is expecting him to produce a Michael Turner-circa-2008 season all of a sudden.
Now, Leon Washington's role in the Jets' offense does get thrown for a bit of a loop, even if he is able to fully heal from his leg fracture. Tomlinson's hands are still adept, and provided he still has between five and 10 snaps per game in him, I expect he'll be the team's primary third-down option, leaving Washington to focus on specialty plays and special teams. Unless one of the two guys in front of him gets hurt, it's hard to see fantasy value for Washington in '10.
Finally, a quick word about the Jets' decision-making here. I really don't understand their decision to go with Tomlinson over Jones as Greene's backup. I really don't. I mean, maybe there are interpersonal issues here, locker-room stuff that simply ruled out Jones returning. But barring that, are there really a lot of people out there who think LDT is a better player than Jones at this point in their respective careers?
The Jets reportedly didn't want to pay Jones his $3 million roster bonus on top of his $2.8 million base salary. But Jones wound up signing a two-year deal for $5 million, essentially the same dollars the Jets gave Tomlinson. Was there really no chance at all of working something out? Maybe not. Maybe Jones' pride was too injured by the notion of his team refusing to pay him a bonus after a 1,400-yard season. But boy, I think the Jets are a worse team with Tomlinson instead of Jones, and as a football fan, I'd have liked to see them work that out.
Anyway, fantasy owners scratching their heads about recent fantasy stars landing in crowded situations can at least take solace in this: At least Tomlinson didn't land with the Vikings.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.