The greatest allure held within any offseason is the capacity to play couch-GM of one’s favorite team. All the fun of playing with hypotheticals like puzzle pieces, without the hassles and headaches of the real job.
In the spirit of that home general manager principle, I approach Jerry Porter’s recent dismissal by Miami as a great opening to a hypothetical scenario that while unlikely (given A.J. Smith’s past history) could be of great benefit to San Diego.
The notion would be this: Sign Porter and offer a medium rather than high tender to Merriman in the hopes that a team tries to snag him away (I am not sure if the traditional low-tender rules are altered by his being a first round draft pick).
The idea behind this would be twofold. The first is that Porter should come cheaper than Merriman. The circumstance surrounding his being cut from Miami, paired with age and injury concerns should keep his market value on a relative even keel.
His expressed predilection towards playing near his home in a 3-4 defense gives San Diego a decent bargaining chip to aid further in the process.
He comes with his own share of questions. Both he and Merriman have had injury concerns, with Porter being slowed by hamstring difficulties and Merriman missing 20 of the last 35 games (and slowed by groin troubles most of the remaining 14).
Porter also has some character concerns—there was a reason why Miami cut the vociferous linebacker—as he and Sparano appeared at odds all season. How much of that was situational and how much was Porter? That would be the question.
San Diego’s tendency to take a less hard-line approach (such as chopping playing time or entire games) probably bodes well for Porter’s personality. Merriman himself is not altogether free of character worries as well, including a steroid suspension.
How does this play into the team’s production in 2010? At this stage in his career Porter is more likely to be a solid vet rather than a home-run prospect. Merriman has the greater upside, with the possibility to return to his earlier form where he netted 40 sacks in three years as well as simply giving the team a longer term option as he is seven years younger than Porter.
In 2009 Porter was the stronger option however. He finished the year with nine sacks to Merriman’s four, despite losing time to Cameron Wake. If the team plays on the assumption that Merriman will not return to his "old" self, then Porter seems the solid option.
Ultimately if it were a direct 1:1 correlation there is no reason to take Porter over Merriman. Porter’s a fading star that should give the team two, maybe three good years. Merriman is younger, bigger, and stronger. What could be the difference maker would be what the trade-off spells for the rest of the team.
Landing Porter over Merriman should give the team additional salary space (while the year is to be uncapped, the team is very unlikely to spike its overall spending) with which to re-sign other key players such as wideouts Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd, Left Tackle Marcus McNeill, and swiss-army back Darren Sproles.
With Miami cutting Porter, San Diego faces none of the restrictions that it, as a final-eight team, would face in negotiating with normal unrestricted free agents (along with the rise of restricted free agents, another rule in this uncapped year severely hamstrings free agent signings by the top eight teams).
It also helps that the move means San Diego would not lose anything in trade, as was initially expected would happen with Porter over an out and out-cutting.
The final piece is the departure of Merriman. With Porter in place, the hope would be that a team snags Merriman for a second round tender. The additional draft pick opens up more options for a San Diego team looking to address holes in the running game, defensive line, and at right tackle.
Three pressing needs, three picks in the first two rounds to try and get it right. The additional pick could also be used to try and find another young rush-linebacker should they not have faith in English’s ability to eventually step into the role.
Therein lies the ultimate benefit to a Porter for Merriman exchange. The team may not end up better at that specific position because of it, but it allows the team a greater capacity to improve elsewhere, rounding out the team for a net gain that the simple re-signing of Merriman would not allow.
Will the team make the change? Probably not, but it’s the offseason, and wild-conjecture and theory are what the offseason is all about.