For the first time in his legendary career, LaDainian Tomlinson is thinking hard about calling it quits.
The future Hall of Famer, who acknowledged last week that the thought of not playing in 2012 had crossed his mind, seemed more serious about it Friday in a radio interview.
"I am contemplating retirement," the New York Jets running back told XX1090 in San Diego. "That's what I told my coaches and told my agent and everybody. That's exactly what it is. This is the first time in my playing career that I've actually honestly thought about this may be it for me. That's kind of where I am right now."
Tomlinson, who signed a two-year contract in 2010 with the Jets, will be a free agent. Tomlinson turns 33 in June and said it's "hard to say" whether the Jets want him back. From all indications, the Jets want to get younger at running back.
Tomlinson still believes he can contribute, but he said he'd have to find a situation where there's "the hope of a championship." A Super Bowl ring is the only thing missing from his career, which includes five Pro Bowls and one league MVP award. He's the fifth-leading rusher in NFL history, with 13,684 yards.
"Yeah, I definitely think so," he told the radio station, on whether he can still help a team. "For one, my experience in the passing game, and I think I've proven this year that I'm still viable out of the backfield in one-on-one matchups and things like that. I still get open. I think the passing game, a lot of teams are throwing the ball these days and I think I'd help people a lot in the passing game."
Tomlinson didn't rule out a return to the San Diego Chargers, where he played for nine years and became an iconic figure. But he indicated last week that he wouldn't come back to play for the veterans' minimum. He made just about the minimum in 2011 ($1.125 million) after agreeing to a pay cut.
He accepted a part-time role with the Jets, finishing with 42 receptions for 449 yards and two touchdowns as the third-down back. He rushed for a career-low 280 yards on 75 attempts, playing behind starter Shonn Greene.
Tomlinson is widely respected in the locker room, and the Jets would miss that leadership in light of their well-publicized turmoil. After the season-ending loss to the Miami Dolphins, he criticized teammate Santonio Holmes for quitting late in the game and not behaving like a captain. Privately, some of Tomlinson's teammates applauded him for going public with a sentiment that many shared.
He said there "were some great times this year even through all that. We had some great times together, but I just think after 11 years of battling, getting close, and not getting it done, it's hard for me to start over on that journey again. It's going to be hard."
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.