This is the 12th in a series of scouting reports on 15 key players who are slated to become free agents — restricted or unrestricted — March 5, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.
News: The nickname of Chargers OLB Shawne Merriman might be "Lights Out," but that term certainly doesn't describe his play over the past two seasons. A first-round pick in 2005 and Pro Bowler in each of his first three seasons, Merriman has been far from an impact player since then. After playing in just one game in '08 before undergoing reconstructive knee surgery, the linebacker returned in '09 a toned-down version of himself, struggling through injuries all season and finishing with only four sacks and 36 tackles. With no new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, he's set to become a restricted free agent, making it likely that he remains in San Diego for another year.
Notes: Merriman was simply dominant in his first three years as a pro, quickly asserting himself as one of the league's top pass-rushing 'backers. The '05 Rookie of the Year racked up 39½ sacks in his first three seasons (despite missing six games) before knee surgery sidelined him for nearly a year. Injuries continued to plague the Maryland product in '09, and he was never able to get to 100 percent. Merriman's career has not been without controversy, however. He tested positive for steroids in '06 and was suspended for four games that season, then he was involved in a domestic dispute with reality TV star Tila Tequila in '09, although all charges against him from that incident were dismissed. It's also widely believed that Chargers GM A.J. Smith does not like that Merriman is involved in so many off-field projects.
Positives: When he's on his game, Merriman is a disruptive force on defense. His high energy and tremendous speed allow him to consistently get to opposing quarterbacks, who then get to feel the wrath of his enormous hits. Playing much faster than someone who is 6-4 and 265 pounds, he also can keep up with quick players in space. Very intense and with a mean streak, rushers rarely can break out of his tackles. He has solid leverage and hand movement, as well.
Negatives: Merriman can be overly aggressive and overrun plays at times, leaving him out of position. He sometimes has trouble getting low enough, which leaves him vulnerable to larger blockers. There are also questions as to whether he can fully recover from his major knee operation, which could have contributed to the linebacker's numerous other ailments last season. Although passionate about football, he has strong interests in a number of things outside the game too, which could occasionally divert his attention.
Risk factor: Moderate. Merriman, who turns 26 in late May, still has a bunch of good years ahead of him, assuming he stays healthy. But with his injury history, that's far from a given. He could be a significant difference maker for a "D," but only if he's able to avoid the trainer's room.
Tuesday: Texans CB Dunta Robinson
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