The thought of San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman wearing a Raiders uniform would have seemed preposterous as recently as two years ago.
At the time, Merriman was fresh from a season in which he recorded 12 ½ sacks and in the prime of a career that seemed destined to culminate with his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There was no way the Chargers would part with the league’s premier defensive player.
Now, 11 days shy of Merriman’s 26th birthday, the Chargers are trying to dump Merriman, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. The paper reported that the Chargers had three failed attempts at unloading Merriman last month.
The snag reportedly resulted from the Chargers insisting upon a first-round draft pick in exchange for the five-year veteran. The New Orleans Saints reportedly were one of the teams interested in acquiring Merriman.
Merriman still hasn’t signed the first- and third-round tender of $3.27 million that the Chargers offered him as a restricted free agent. The Union-Tribune said the Chargers still are working on moving Merriman.
This is where the Raiders come in. They haven’t had a game-changing player on defense since the days of free safety Rod Woodson, with apologies to cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
When Merriman was at his best, teams devised game plans that included ways to steer clear of Merriman and provided for maximum protection against his frequent incursions into the backfield. No more. Merriman is just another guy in the Chargers defense.
In years past, Raiders managing general partner Al Davis would find it hard to resist the urge to trade for a high-profile player such as Merriman, regardless if it was obvious to most that the player’s best days were behind him.
However, Davis has resisted such urges the past two years, with the notable exception of trading for defensive lineman Richard Seymour just before the 2009 season started. At least Seymour still bears a resemblance to the dominant player he was for eight seasons with the New England Patriots.
As for Merriman, he recorded only four sacks last season, including none in his team’s final seven games. This from a player who averaged more than 13 his first three seasons.
Merriman said in an interview on NFL Network that he wants to remain with the Chargers. He also said that his drop in production last season owed more to injuries than anything else.
“Yeah, I had a rough year,” Merriman said. “Yeah, I had a groin and a foot injury that really slowed me down a whole lot. I came back from something that was tough for many guys to do, and right now, I’m more concentrated on getting back on the field 100 percent and performing like I do.
“There’s nothing more important to me than going out there and providing the things that I’ve been doing for my team for five years now. That’s the most important thing going on in my life and how I can get back and play great football.”
The Raiders still have a need for players who can change the complexion of games. Merriman once was that kind of player. Davis would be wise to let the phone go to voicemail if Chargers general manager A.J. Smith calls.
There are 13 linebackers on the Raiders roster. It’s likely that none will ever reach the level of play that Merriman displayed his first three seasons. However, it’s also likely that rookie Rolando McClain and a few others will surpass the play of Merriman next season and beyond.