The move on Monday had been expected. Tomlinson, who turned 30 last summer, was injured early in the 2009 season and finished with 730 yards on 223 carries for an average of 3.3 yards per carry, all career lows.
Tomlinson was due a $2 million bonus in early March, which all but guaranteed he would be cut loose, as well as a $5 million salary for 2010. He still had two years left on his contract, but his role was diminishing on a team that was turning toward the passing game.
He wasn't available for comment but said after the playoffs he felt he could still play for a few more seasons.
"I told him that in the 26 years that I've been in this business, it was probably the hardest thing I've had to do," team president Dean Spanos told The Associated Press. "I'm not close to a lot of the players, but there's a handful that I've been close with, and he's probably the closest. It was really difficult to tell him. He had his typical smile. He was just as good as could be, as respectful as could be. Just really, like he is, first class."
Tomlinson ranks eighth on the all-time rushing list with 12,490 yards. His 138 career rushing touchdowns rank second, and his 153 total touchdowns rank third.
He was the NFL's MVP in 2006, when he set NFL single-season records with 31 touchdowns and 186 points. Tomlinson won the NFL's rushing title in 2006 and '07.
Following a one-win season in 2000, the Chargers used the fifth draft pick on Tomlinson. He led them to the playoffs five times.
"When he came here in 2001, we were a struggling franchise," Spanos said. "It's clear that we are where we are today because of him. He truly has been the heart and soul of our team all these years, and just done an outstanding job and helped turn this franchise around into a winning franchise. It couldn't have been done without him."