The San Diego Chargers were done with him. They felt it was time to move on from a diminished running back, Hall of Famer or not.
Or so they assumed.
Turns out time isn't a determinate concept for Tomlinson. He seems to have gotten younger since joining the New York Jets.
"I know what age I am, but it doesn't mean I can't play," Tomlinson said. "All players don't slow down when they get to 30 or 31.
"Some players just defy the odds, and I like to say that I'm that type of player."
Tomlinson has been sensational for the Jets, who are 3-1 (his age with a little dash mixed in) entering Monday night's game against the Minnesota Vikings at the Meadowlands.
The Jets and the Vikings were the only teams that pursued Tomlinson after the Chargers cut him. His age plus recent play made him a tepid commodity at best. Now opposing defenses are the ones chasing after him.
"He's playing inspired ball, and it's obvious that he was going to be a good player," Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "Management was dead right. He's awesome."
In the interest of full disclosure, ESPN.com's projected year-end stat line for Tomlinson was 161 carries for 646 yards (4.0-yard average) and seven touchdowns plus 17 receptions for 118 yards and one touchdown.
Four games into the season, Tomlinson already has 56 carries for 341 yards (6.1-yard average) and three touchdowns along with 12 catches for 82 yards.
He's on pace to rush for 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns. He's on track for 48 catches for 328 yards.
Those are Tomlinson's numbers circa 2007. He was an All-Pro that year.
"I am not surprised one bit," Vikings quarterback Brett Favre said. "Sometimes you just kind of get lost in the shuffle, and a change of scenery is sometimes good, not only for the team, but for the player. This is one of those cases. That guy, he's playing outstanding."
Tomlinson attributes his resurgence to being free of nagging leg injuries that plagued him the past couple of years. He appears explosive, shifty and in command.
He has started the past two weeks, something the Jets probably didn't count on when they signed him and a role he certainly wouldn't have played with Adrian Peterson in Minnesota.
The Jets released Thomas Jones because they were ready to make Shonn Greene the lead back. Tomlinson was going to be a complement in the run game while providing Sanchez a reliable checkdown target the young quarterback said can "break a defense's back."
Yet Tomlinson has been so much more.
"I just thought he was going to be outstanding. He's been better than that," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "He's amazing."
Tomlinson will get to face three of those defenses again in December, when the Jets make their second tour of the AFC East circuit.
The Vikings have a track record of nasty run defenses. They ranked No. 1 in 2006, '07 and '08. They were No. 2 last year.
The Vikings are ninth against the run so far this year, allowing 3.6 yards a carry and 87.3 yards a game.
"It doesn't look like he's lost anything to me," Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "He's making some real good runs. He seems to be really motivated to have a good year. We're going to have our hands full trying to stop him."
The Jets know they need to keep Tomlinson young into the cold-weather months. Tomlinson grew up in Texas and played at Texas Christian University before spending his NFL career in balmy San Diego until this year.
Tomlinson seems spry now, but can he keep it up when the bumps and bruises accumulate and start to sting in the howling Meadowlands winds or in the snow and freezing rain that will fall in the Midwest and Northeast stadiums?
With another capable runner in the backfield -- Greene was the offensive star of the playoffs last season -- Ryan is confident the mere distribution of carries will be Tomlinson's Oil of Olay.
Last week against the Bills, Tomlinson overtook Tony Dorsett for seventh place on the all-time rushing list and earned AFC offensive player of the week honors for the first time since 2006.
Tomlinson ran for 133 yards, most in the NFL that weekend, and two touchdowns. It was his 25th career game of 100-plus yards and at least two touchdowns, tying Jim Brown for the all-time lead. Tomlinson's teams are 25-0 when he does that.
Sure, his time-capsule performance happened against the hapless Bills and Peterson was on a bye last weekend (helping Tomlinson lead the entire league), but his performances have been no less compelling.
"It's obvious he's still a good player," Sanchez said, "and when you put him in the right system, you have an O-line that's opening holes for him and you get a young, stubborn quarterback who is finally figuring out how to check the ball down, he looks like an all-star, and he should. He's that kind of player."