The conventional wisdom and common sense together seem to be suggesting the Chargers are planning on making one more trade, and if so, the traded player is likely to be either Merriman or Sproles. What are they worth, really, and who wants them? This underinformed outsider makes some conjecture, below the jump.
Shawne Merriman was a #12 overall pick in 2005. He accumulated nearly 40 sacks in his first three seasons, lost a season to injury, came back and was just ok, and is now at full health. He's definitely got upside, as much as any linebacker in the game. He also definitely has risk; he's made poor strategic decisions (failing to get surgery in February '08, which really hurt his '09 season), spent too much time with the wrong people (Tila Tequila), and been in trouble with the league (drug suspension). But he's certainly no riskier than a rookie, and should fetch an early-mid first-rounder at least.
Who wants him? Any 3-4 defense has a shot at instantly upgrading with Lights Out; no team has two OLBs of that caliber. However, whoever takes him needs to sign him, and he'll be a whole lot more expensive than a pick of his value would be. They would be able to try him out for a year to make sure he's at full health before they drop the bank. The non-rival teams with sufficient need and draft ammo are Cleveland, Buffalo, Miami, San Francisco and maybe Houston. Of those, only San Francisco and Miami would make a ton of sense. But Miami just spent a fortune (and their second rounder) on B-Marsh. So that would leave San Francisco, with the #13 or #17 pick.
What would we get? Dan Williams or CJ Spiller, or two lesser picks. Is it worth it? Hell no. Even if we have Merriman only one more year, it's a contract year. Will Merriman be traded? Probably not. He'll probably get a good year in, then either get tagged in '11 or let go for a #97-100 pick in 2012. I'm still holding out the vaguest shadow of a hope that KA's wrong and they find a way to re-sign him; between Merriman and Jackson, I think Lights Out makes a bigger difference. If anything, I think English should eventually replace Phillips; maybe he'll improve the character of the team.
Darren Sproles was a 4th-round pick in that same awesome 2005 draft. Sproles is one of the best kickoff returners in the league, and is very difficult to contain on screen passes; he's so small that he's very hard to tackle. He lost a year to a broken leg, but is not thought to be an especial injury risk; in fact, he has a reputation for being remarkably tough. However, his small size makes him ineffective at the full-time halfback role. Even so, he's one more headache that every defensive or special teams coach would rather not have to deal with. The Chargers are looking for a low 1st-rounder for him, but would probably have to settle for a 2nd.
Who wants him? As an explosive returner, he can benefit a team with a struggling return game, particularly if it lacks receiving threats to get downfield or has a passer who can't make all the throws. As a backup halfback, he's best suited for a team that already has a quality RB corps. We're a little lucky in that the teams that need him all pick at the same point, and it's a place we could use an extra pick. The Giants, 49ers and Titans all have mid-round picks in both the first and second rounds, well-positioned to trade up with San Diego's #40 pick (or even #28) or make a straight swap. The Panthers are in much the same spot as the others, but have no first-round pick. This might make them hesitant to trade their second-rounder. FWIW, Football Outsiders hates all four of these teams' kickoff returns. Most of these teams have good run-blocking, and many of them could probably get better mileage out of Li'l Tankie than we do. Whoever takes him needs to sign him to a comparatively world-beating KR/CoPB contract right away, or they're on the hook for WAY too much money; unlike with Merriman, they can't really afford to wait a year on Sproles.
What would we get? Either we'd trade up to snag Dan Williams with our 1st or 2nd, or we'd have enough picks for our RB, NT and BDPA. Is it worth it? Probably. Trading up costs us two players, because we have to draft Sproles's replacement. But we don't need another Sproles; we just need another halfback. We have a good KR in Buster Davis, and with a rookie to alternate/compete, whatever drop-off we experience will not be as major as the benefit we'd get by finding our Monster in the Middle. Will Sproles be traded? No idea. 50/50. If not, they may try to extend him, because he's super-expensive this year. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if a deal is already worked out, all three parties know exactly what's going to happen, and they're waiting for the day of the draft to announce it.
My guess? Merriman will stay, and Sproles will go to either San Francisco, the New York Giants or Tennessee. Two of those teams play here next year, so I'm guessing the Giants. But the 49ers have more ammunition....