Just 28 years old, Merriman cited wanting to retire on his "own terms" as his overarching reason for stepping away. Here is a look at part of Merriman's statement, via his official website:
After a lengthy discussion with my agent, family, and team, I have officially decided to put in my retirement papers today. My retirement from the game I love so much and from the game that has brought me so many opportunities on and off the field has been decided with great thought for my future on and off the field. I retire today not because I don't feel I can go out there and still play my game at a very high level, I am retiring because I want to retire on my own terms and leave while I know I can still physically play the game. I am stepping back to pursue other great opportunities that have been afforded to me.
Merriman, who was drafted 12th overall by the Chargers in 2005, was an instant superstar from the moment he arrived in Southern California. He earned the nickname "Lights Out" for his ferocious hitting during his high school career, something he carried into the NFL as he recorded 10 sacks as a rookie and won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award. He was also named to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams, a distinction he would receive in each of his first three NFL seasons.
Merriman set a career high and led the NFL in sacks during the 2006 campaign with 17 and finished third in the Defensive Player of the Year balloting. He did that despite missing four games due to a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
However, Merriman's star faded almost as quickly as it rose to national prominence—mostly due to injuries. A knee injury limited him to only one game in 2008, and his career went swiftly downhill after that. He put up just four sacks the following season and played in only three games during the 2010 campaign before injuries forced the Chargers to release their former star.
Merriman then signed with the Buffalo Bills, but could never recapture his former magic. Struggling with both injuries and ineffectiveness, Merriman registered only two sacks in 15 games over two seasons in Buffalo.
Set to be a free agent when the league's signing period begins on March 12, Merriman decided it was best to walk away rather than cling on for dear life while waiting for the call to latch onto another team. While his career is going out with a bit of a whimper, most fans will remember that short period when Merriman was the game's most dominant pass-rusher.
Here's hoping he ascends just as high in his next calling.