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Should the Chargers Keep Shawne Merriman?

I'd like to lead off this post by stating that I'm well aware that the San Diego Chargers will not, most likely, be giving Shawne Merriman a long-term contract now or at any point in the future.  A.J. Smith, via Kevin Acee and via his drafting of Larry English in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft, has made it quite clear that he's ready to move on without Shawne instead of giving him the big contract he'll command (....maybe).

The question I'm going to attempt to answer far should the Chargers go to keep Shawne in San Diego for the 2010 season? Should they try to get value for him now, in case he doesn't improve next season?


Value: Despite not being an elite pass-rusher for two years now, everyone knows that at one point Shawne was one of the most dangerous pass-rushing OLBs in the history of the NFL.  His recent struggles could be directly tied to his injuries, and he's about to go through his first rehab-free offseason since 2007 (a year in which he posted 12.5 sacks and a career-high 54 tackles).  

The Chargers, and everyone else around the NFL, knows that there's a chance that the old, dominating Shawne Merriman comes back to terrorize the league in 2010.  If you're going off his 2009 season performance, the return value in a trade for him would be a 5th or 6th rounder at best.  If you're going off what he's capable of doing, which teams will this offseason, he could net the Chargers a first round pick or better.  

However, if the Bolts keep him around for 2010 and he is as ineffective as he was in this past season, they'll get almost nothing in return.  If that happens, they'll most likely let him sign with another team as an unrestricted free agent.


Draft Picks: Here's where we start diving into Restricted Free-Agent "tenders".  The number I found for RFA tenders are for 2009, but they don't change dramatically from one year to the next so it should serve our purpose just fine.

Tender amount Compensation required
$2.792 million 1st and 3rd round picks
$2.198 million 1st round pick
$1.545 million 2nd round pick
$1.01 million Pick in round originally drafted (excluding 1st)


That last one should be clarified a little more.  In the case of Shawne, since he was a 1st round draft pick, it would essentially require the Chargers to get back a 2nd round pick as compensation.  A 2nd round pick would also serve as compensation for Vincent Jackson and/or Marcus McNeill, as they were both taken in the 2nd round.  Compensation for Jeromey Clary, if he were offered the lowest tender and then signed by another team, would be a 6th round pick because he was a 6th round pick.  Got it?

As far as dollars are concerned, even the highest tender would be a (small) step back from Shawne's 2009 salary.  The question that the team needs to ask is....what compensation would they accept for Shawne and how willing are they to give him up?  As far as I know, an RFA with the highest tender offered to him has never been signed by another team because giving up a 1st and 3rd round pick in addition to signing the player to a big-money, long-term contract is an incredibly risky move.  If you're doing that, you better make sure the guy you're getting is a future MVP.

So if the Chargers want to make sure Shawne is in blue and gold in 2010, they could give him that highest tender and still save themselves a little bit of money.  If they think Larry English is ready to take over Shawne's OLB spot, it would make sense to offer him either a "high tender" (if they think somebody will give up a 1st round pick for Merriman) or the lowest tender (where they would almost be assured a 2nd round pick or something similar).


Headaches: I've had this discussion with many Chargers fans in the past: Is Shawne Merriman immature?  I don't think so.  When I look at Shawne, I see a very intelligent young man who is mature beyond his years but perhaps is a little too nice.  Shawne's smart enough to realize that his football/celebrity life won't last forever so he should take the opportunity to enjoy it (responsibly).  He's also nice enough to bring just about anyone along for the ride.

I know it's going to come up in the comments, so let's just bring up the TIla Tequila citizen's arrest thing right now.  What do I think happened?  I think Shawne met her once before and she seemed nice/fun.  Maybe she's his type (for as "skanky" as she is, she's still an Asian girl with huge boobs and a flat stomach) or maybe he just decided that she could hang with him and his friends for a night, thinking it wouldn't be much more than grabbing some drinks and maybe doing an after-party thing.

All of the reports that came out made it very clear: Shawne was not alone at home with Tila and two other women.  There were plenty of people there coming down after a night of partying.  That sounds like the responsible way to end a night if you're an NFLer.  Should he maybe have been more leery when a reality TV star suddenly wanted to party with him?  Perhaps, but I'm one of those people who tends to see the good or expect the best out of perfect stranger.....and this situation seems all too familiar to me.  Suddenly somebody you barely knew, but was pretty cool before, is acting crazy or trying to do something crazy (like drive drunk) and you don't know what to do.  You can't really talk with them on a personal level because you don't know them that well....and now it's obvious why.  You do what you can to protect them, and everyone else.

I know tis is getting way off track, but this Tila Tequila thing got blown way way way out of proportion and I kindof avoided talking about it here because I didn't want to feed into it.  The fact of the matter is, I've been there.  I've had nights where I've had to wrestle somebody's keys away from them, often somebody that I barely knew and invited to a party only to find out that they're totally different once they're drunk.  Shawne's story made sense to me, and that's why I was happy when the police and the witnesses backed him up.  Was it a moment of immaturity or stupidity?  No.  It was more a moment where Shawne was a bit too trusting, expecting everyone to be as "cool" as his group of friends.  I don't know, I wasn't there, but that's what it seemed like to me anyways.


Money: I touched on this in the Draft Picks section, but it should be reiterated.  For less money than he made last year, on the final year of a rather unimpressive rookie contract, the Chargers can keep Merriman around and see what he has left in the tank.  If he comes out like a man on fire in 2010, he could be the final piece the Chargers need to get to where they need to go in the playoffs.  After the season, the team could either put the Franchise Tag on him and keep him around for 2011 or (more likely) put the Franchise Tag on him and trade him (like the Patriots did with Matt Cassel).

Paying less than $3 million to see if your team might have one of the league's best pass-rushers, especially on a team that really struggled with it's pass-rush against good offensive lines in 2009, seems like a wise investment to me.


Production: As good as Shaun Phillips was this year, he was better in 2006 and 2007.  Take a look.

Sacks Int PD FF Tackles
2006 11.5 0 8 4 44
2007 8.5 2 5 3 53
2009 7.0 0 3 7 47


Technically, the only big difference between Shaun's 2009 and 2008 years was that he had 6 more forced fumbles this past season than he did in 2008.  It's obvious that as good of a player as he is, as with everyone in this entire league, he can put up bigger numbers if he has a strong pass-rusher on the other side of the defense to draw attention away from him.

If Merriman was not here in 2010, the Chargers would essentially be betting the farm on Larry English.  That would not only hurt the team's depth at OLB, but it would be setting itself up for another season where Shaun Phillips is killing himself to put up OK numbers and the team would suffer to get pressure against playoff-caliber opponents.  It makes a lot of sense to keep Shawne around another season as a sortof "backup plan" while the team continues to see if Larry English is a future star.


Conclusion: Yes.  If OLB weren't such a need position for the San Diego Chargers in 2010, it might make sense to put the lower tender on him and get a 2nd round pick for him while the team still can.  However, the Bolts need production from that OLB spot next season just as badly as Shawne needs a big year to secure a big-money, long-term deal elsewhere.  The best course of action is to offer Shawne the highest tender and hope that Larry English looks like a legitimate NFL starter in 2010.