Are the Chargers taking the right approach with Shawne Merriman’s contract situation?

The NFL has always been a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league and Shawne Merriman is currently being reminded of that.

In his first three seasons, Merriman posted 188 tackles, 39.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles. But after undergoing major knee surgery before the 2008 season, his numbers have expectedly dropped off. He essentially didn’t play in ’08 and then struggled last year while bouncing back from the injury.

In his last six regular season games, plus his start against the Jets in the playoffs last year, Merriman has zero sacks. He has just one forced fumble in his last 28 starts and finished with only 36 tackles in 14 games last season. While two injury-plagued/unproductive seasons don’t erase three stellar years of service, it’s not unreasonable that the Bolts are holding off on giving Merriman a long-term deal.

No one can fault Merriman for seeking a multi-year contract, especially considering his career has already been threatened once by an injury. Players want the comfort of knowing they’re set up long-term and you can’t hold it against Merriman that’s trying to parlay the success he had in his first three years into a new deal.

That said, you can’t blame the Chargers for wanting to keep him hungry, either. If they paid him now, he may or may not strive to produce. But if they keep that long-term contract carrot dangling in front of him, they know they’re going to get his best effort next season. If he plays well and he moves on next year, then at least they got one last productive season out of him and they already drafted his potential replacement last year in Larry English. If he plays well and wants to stay, then they can feel better about investing in him long-term. If he struggles and has a down year, then they don’t have to commit to him. That might be an unfair scenario for Merriman, but the NFL has always been a business.

Again, I don’t blame Merriman for being upset about his current situation. But what is he going to do? This is the spot he finds himself in and all that’s left is for him to prove that he deserves a long-term deal – whether that’s in San Diego or elsewhere.

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