- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Sanchez-Holmes rift was "as bad as I've ever been around," LaDainian Tomlinson revealed in a television interview.
Tomlinson, the latest player to characterize the dissension-torn locker room as The Florham Park Zoo, said he's not sure if Sanchez and Holmes can co-exist. The future Hall of Famer claimed the locker-room problems "got out of hand" toward the end of the season, adding that coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum fueled the mentality because they like players that speak their mind.
Details of the Sanchez-Holmes feud emerged at the end of the season, but Tomlinson said things started to fall apart in the third or fourth week.
"I've been around some locker rooms and quarterback-receiver situations and what-not, but it was as bad as I've been around," Tomlinson said on Showtime's "Inside the NFL," which aired Wednesday night.
"You know, it was at the point where I think the players could no longer do anything about it. There was nothing that the players could do. So when it gets to that point, there are certain changes that need to happen. Can it be fixed? I think absolutely it can be. But they're going to have to make some tough decisions."
Tomlinson said the players actually had a name for the rift -- the East Coast-West Coast beef, because Sanchez is from California, Holmes from Florida. He said they "poked fun at it," but he added, "In all seriousness, Santonio, obviously, he's a great player. There are some things that obviously he needs to work on as far as being a leader."
If he were the GM, Tomlinson said it would be a "tough one," the decision on whether to keep Sanchez and Holmes together. The Jets have said they plan to retain Holmes, who signed a five-year, $45 million contract before the season, but their true intentions will be known in the coming weeks. He's already guaranteed $7.75 million for 2012 and, if they don't cut by him Feb. 8, they'd have to guarantee an additional $7.5 million.
Tomlinson, contemplating retirement as he heads into free agency, didn't spare Ryan and Tannenbaum, intimating they contributed to the mess.
"They created this," he said. "This is the type of football team that they wanted. Mike Tannenbaum, Rex Ryan are both brash, in-your-face type of style, say whatever you want, just get it done on the field. And then it leads to other things, as guys are calling each other out and saying, 'I'm not getting the ball' or whatever it may be."
Perhaps it's no coincidence that, on the field, Sanchez and Holmes had terrible chemistry. There were 29 quarterback-receiver tandems in which the quarterback targeted that specific receiver at least 100 times, and the combo with the worst completion percentage was Sanchez to Holmes -- 50.2 percent.
The Sanchez-Holmes relationship started to fray after a Week 4 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, according to a source. Afterward, Holmes called out Sanchez and the offensive line, criticizing them publicly. The next day, Sanchez spoke to the offense as a group, asking for team unity. Shortly thereafter, Holmes made more critical comments to the media.
In the days leading up to the final game, Sanchez called a special quarterback-receivers meeting to watch film and Holmes showed up, complaining, as first reported by ESPNNewYork.com. He didn't show for the next day's meeting. In the game, Holmes was benched after jawing with teammates.
Tomlinson, reiterating what he said last Sunday on ESPN's NFL Countdown, refuted a claim by one unnamed player telling the New York Daily News that Sanchez is "lazy." But he did say the Jets need a backup to push him.
"I would say a bit pampered because he has no competition," Tomlinson said. "He has no real threat to say, 'This guy may take my job.'"
Tomlinson said Sanchez can overcome the turmoil, but "he just has to have pieces around him to help him get it done."
The NFL's leading active rusher also questioned the decision to stray from their Ground & Pound offense, another shot at Ryan.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said. "So a team that was coming off two straight AFC Championship Games relied heavily on the run. My opinion now, why would you just totally switch up your identity at that point?"
Tomlinson said he loves playing for the outspoken Ryan, but he admitted he doesn't always like the bravado.
"I would prefer him not to say it as much as he did," said Tomlinson, who said plenty himself.
8hEric D. Williams