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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Top 10 Impact Defensive Rookies for the 2009 NFL Season

My colleague (and inspiration according to him) John Paulsen did a great job of highlighting the impact that this year’s offensive rookie class could have in terms of fantasy football, so I thought it would only be appropriate to show some love to the defensive rooks.

I’ve ranked the 10 rookies who I feel could make the biggest impact for their teams in 2009. This doesn’t mean that I think they’ll put up gaudy numbers, although they could. These rankings are more of a reflection of how I feel each rookie fits into their specific defensive scheme and what teams can expect in terms of overall production from these players in their first season.

Side Note: I stuck to only the defensive players that were drafted in the first two rounds. While plenty of mid-round picks have started and were successful in their rookie seasons, it’s a little hard to project at this point which third and fourth rounders could have an impact with training camps still a month or so away. Maybe I’ll re-visit this topic once again before the season starts and dedicate another piece to the mid-rounders that could have an immediate impact.

1. Aaron Curry, LB, Seahawks
Curry might not have been the first defensive player to come off the board in April (that honor went to LSU’s Tyson Jackson, who was selected with the third overall by the Chiefs), but he was the best defender that the 2009 draft class had to offer. Curry has the ability to play all three linebacker positions in a 4-3, although he’ll likely start on the strong side, allowing the Hawks to keep LeRoy Hill at weakside ‘backer. Curry has outstanding speed (4.5), size (6’2”, 254 pounds) and can stay on the field in passing situations, unlike some linebackers, who are often replaced in nickel packages because they can’t hang with backs, tight ends and receivers. Curry isn’t one of those situational prospects – he’s a complete player and should make a significant impact in his first year.

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