The San Diego Chargers placed Pro Bowl Linebacker Shawne Merriman on Injured Reserve earlier this week after the linebacker spent most of the season rehabbing a series of injuries.
It has also become official that the Chargers plan on releasing Merriman once he is healthy.
Most Chargers fans have seen this coming ever since Merriman's return from season ending knee surgery in 2008 (brought on by a dirty hit from Kevin Mawae at the end of the 2007 season). He has failed to display the same pass rush ability as he had before, and his injuries have kept him from practicing and playing often enough to be a factor.
That having been said, Merriman could still have a good career left in front of him should the right team give him the chance to recover and play on a rotational basis until he is ready to take back a starting position.
Merriman is lucky, because he will enter the free agency market in a year where several teams will be looking for some security at linebacker.
Here are the five teams that seem to be the front runners in snagging Merriman.
As it stands, the Patriots have one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL, and are therefore struggling on defense.
Despite drafting Jermaine Cunningham in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the Patriots still lack a good outside rusher to compliment veteran Tully Banta-Cain.
If it had come down to a trade, Bill Belichick would likely have passed. However, considering the extreme drop in Shawne Merriman's value, coupled with the fact that the Patriots would not have to give up any sort of compensation, New England could very well make this move, especially since they have shown their willingness to shift talent around already this season in the Randy Moss and Deion Branch trades.
The preseason Super Bowl favorites have taken a lot of hits on the injury front on both sides of the ball.
No injury will hurt more than the loss of Jermichael Finley, but losing Nick Barnett is not something that the team can simply shrug off. With him off the field for the year, the Packers will likely have to do some personnel shifting, and Merriman could do well to aid this process.
While Shawne Merriman is no inside linebacker, bringing him on as insurance could allow the Packers to move an outside linebacker to the inside.
In addition, considering that the Green Bay Packers will likely elect to solve their injury problems in another fashion, the Packers have the potential to take an already brutal pass rush to a new level with Merriman.
While Merriman may not play like he used to, having Clay Matthews lined up on the other side of the linebacker corps could allow Merriman some more space to operate. Matthews would command the double team, which would allow Merriman to use his strength and speed to put the hurt on opposing quarterbacks.
It would be a risk for Green Bay, but they wouldn't exactly be giving up much.
The Cardinals are really missing Karlos Dansby in their stable of linebackers.
While the addition of veteran OLB Joey Porter has helped, the Cardinals could certainly use a better pass rush, and Shawne Merriman could be the one to help them develop one.
As it stands, the Cardinals do not have much in the way of future outside linebacker prospects. Adding Shawne Merriman would allow them to rotate in a solid linebacker while allowing him to recover and continue to develop.
If Shawne Merriman can return to even a shadow of his former self, the Cardinals will have made out with a real steal, and it could really help the team to find an identity in the post-Kurt Warner era.
The Cleveland Browns are clearly in rebuilding mode this season, and what better way to help rebuild than to bring on a future pass rush prospect in Shawne Merriman.
Cleveland has a passable group of outside linebackers right now, who have combined for eight sacks so far this season.
However, Scott Fujita is more of a stop-gap than anything else, and the Browns need to start looking towards the future when it comes to their pass rush.
Bringing on Merriman this year at low cost would allow the Browns to keep him limited, get him healthy, and see if he is capable of stepping up into the starting role.
At this point, they need something good, because despite the eight sacks, they are still 21st in the League in total defense.
Now, despite the fact that Shawne Merriman has spent his whole career playing in a 3-4 defensive scheme, this could really work for the Saints.
The most important piece of this deal would be Merriman's ability to adjust, which is why the Saints would likely keep him on the sidelines until he is completely healthy. That should give him enough time to start absorbing the system, which should make his integration much easier.
The Saints would gain a valuable pass rusher as well as a decent coverage linebacker, and they would provide injury security as well.
The Saints can afford the risk, and they could use the future prospect, because they are running short of options at the outside linebacker position.
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