When the Bills claimed OLB Shawne Merriman off waivers on Nov. 3, they did a lot more than just add a three-time Pro Bowl player. The acquisition alters the team's defensive strategy the remainder of the season, even before the former Charger puts on a Buffalo uniform.
Buddy Nix, the current Bills general manager and former assistant GM/director of player personnel in San Diego, had a hand in selecting Merriman when he was coming out of Maryland in 2005. Merriman was an explosive player, one of the quickest in the league at attacking QBs and a dominant force that altered blocking schemes, allowing teammates to record huge sack totals as well. In his first three NFL seasons, Merriman did his 'Lights Out' dance 40 times, one for each QB he brought down.
The Merriman coming to the Bills in 2010 is a bit different. Reconstructive knee surgery slowed him down in 2008, a foot problem stopped him in '09 and a calf injury has limited his play this season, the main reasons he has accounted for only four sacks the past 2½ seasons. Nobody is sure what kind of shape the linebacker is currently in, and it remains to be seen if he'll play every down or strictly in pass-rush situations.
One thing that is certain is that Merriman's play is best suited for the 3-4, the defense the Bills used at the start of the season without much success. Opponents were running with ease on the unit, so a switch to the 4-3 was made, but the run defense never improved, with the Jaguars, Ravens and Chiefs averaging 208 rushing yards Weeks 5-8. OLB Chris Kelsay, a converted defensive end, has struggled in space this season at a new position, and may see his playing time decrease. Fellow OLB Aaron Maybin, a first-round pick in 2009, is lucky he still has his roster spot following Merriman's signing, as he has not come anywhere close to expectations the Bills had for him.
"We think Shawne can help our defense, and so we have claimed him off waivers," Nix said the day of the signing. "He has been an impact player in a 3-4 defense, and we feel this is a good opportunity to make our team better."
At 0-7, the Bills have nowhere to go but up, and the same can be said for a former All-Pro looking to return to elite status.