Sources: LaDainian Tomlinson to return

Updated: March 1, 2011, 4:58 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

Three players who are older than 30 received pink slips Monday from the New York Jets -- Kris Jenkins, Jason Taylor and Damien Woody. One player in that precarious age group who doesn't have to worry about his future is LaDainian Tomlinson.

The Jets will retain the future Hall of Fame running back for the 2011 season, the final year of his contract, according to league sources. There had been mild speculation about Tomlinson, who turns 32 in June, but the team intends to go forward with a three-headed backfield -- Tomlinson, Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight.

General manager Mike Tannenbaum said after the season that he expects Tomlinson back but left some wiggle room by saying "things could change." Tomlinson's late-season fade, coupled with McKnight's strong showing in the Jets' regular-season finale, prompted some to speculate that the team was mulling a change.

But the Jets remain confident Tomlinson still can be a productive back. Even though he failed to crack the 50-yard mark in any of his last six regular-season games, he still rushed for a team-high 914 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. He also caught 52 passes, an invaluable security blanket for quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Tomlinson probably secured his future with a fantastic game against the Colts in the wild-card round, rushing for 82 yards and two touchdowns.

After the season, Tomlinson left no doubt about his feelings.

"I would definitely like to play, no question," Tomlinson said at a Dallas fundraiser a few days before the Super Bowl. "Really and truly, I'm under contract, and I fully expect to play football with the Jets next year. Until I'm told otherwise, I just expect to be there."

One potential sticking point could be his role. At 32, and with McKnight ready to be a contributor, Tomlinson's playing time will shrink. It's possible he could be used primarily as a third-down back. Whether he'd be happy in a limited role remains to be seen. Tomlinson is due to make $2.4 million in base pay in the coming season.

With 13,404 career yards, Tomlinson is the sixth-leading rusher in NFL history, trailing Jerome Bettis (fifth) by 258 yards and former Jet Curtis Martin (fourth) by 697.

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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