<
>

Shawne Merriman worth a shot for Buffalo

11/4/2010

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills, with nothing to lose aside from nine more football games and some cash, took a flyer on outside linebacker Shawne Merriman.

The Bills salvaged Merriman from the waiver wire Wednesday, acquiring a player who made three Pro Bowls in five seasons with the San Diego Chargers.

Merriman has before him an opportunity to rejuvenate his stalled career, a half-season tryout to show he still can play. He amassed 39.5 sacks in his first three seasons, but has just four sacks since. He has been plagued with injuries and saddled with a reputation as a problem child. He's only 26.

In a previous item on the AFC East blog, I theorized Merriman would not make sense for Buffalo because he's playing on a one-year contract. My belief is that rental players are meant for contending teams. The Bills are 0-7, and my stance was that Merriman simply would be a waste of money.

The more I spoke with NFL people about Buffalo's decision to pick him up, the more I've come around to a neutral position and might even lean toward Merriman being a move that's worth the risk for Buffalo.

The Bills are winless. Why not bring him in?

The Bills are desperate for a victory. As each week passes, the misery grows. Maybe someone like Merriman would've made a play that helped the Bills actually pull out of those back-to-back overtime road losses.

Buffalo has a weak pass rush and has made some dubious moves at outside linebacker.

Aaron Maybin, the 11th overall draft choice last year, has been a healthy scratch. Veteran Chris Kelsay was given a curious and seemingly excessive contract extension earlier this year. All of Buffalo's outside linebackers have combined for two sacks. One of them belongs to Chris Ellis, who has been cut.

If healthy (Merriman had to pass an exit physical before San Diego could place him on waivers), he immediately becomes Buffalo's best pass-rusher.

Still, my prediction is that Merriman won't be with Buffalo beyond this season.

What will transpire over the next two months will provide a stage, with the rest of the league his audience. If he fails to make an impression, then there's no reason for the Bills to bring him back. If he does show he still can be a force, then the Bills either will have to place the franchise tag on him (it was $9.68 million for 2010) or compete with other teams for his services through free agency.

Would Merriman be open to signing a contract extension before the end of the season? That's doubtful. Maybe if the Bills were the only team to put in a waiver claim Wednesday, but two others showed interest. Merriman already knows the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted him, and it doesn't snow in Florida.

Also, a source close to Merriman told me he "wasn't thrilled" to be going to Buffalo, even though Bills general manager Buddy Nix oversaw the Chargers' college scouting department when they drafted him in 2005.

Merriman has been an auxiliary member of the Southern California glitterati for six years. He walks red carpets. He has appeared in the HBO show "Entourage" and music videos and pro wrestling events. He dated infamous reality celebrity Tila Tequila.

AFC West blogger Bill Williamson wrote: "Merriman loves the spotlight. He loves being a celebrity. He never missed an opportunity to hobnob with the rich and famous. It was well known that it bothered some in the San Diego organization."

With no playoff appearances over the past decade and no klieg lights, Buffalo will be a difficult long-term sell to Merriman.

But one NFL executive who knows him well believes Buffalo could be the perfect place for Merriman to restart his career.

"It might be the best thing to get him away from Hollywood, from San Diego, from the bright lights," the executive told me. "In Buffalo it's all about football and only football. Maybe he will remember what football means to him."

Merriman would be retracing Terrell Owens' footsteps. Owens, of course, came to Buffalo by choice, signing last year as a free agent. But Merriman's goal essentially would be the same, to reclaim his career by proving to the rest of the league he has been misunderstood and is worth their attention in 2011.

Merriman, like Owens, is known as a dedicated player who leaves it all on the field. Merriman is a warrior who's passionate about football and yearns mightily to win.

But there were too many distractions that went against the team dynamic. The Chargers got fed up with repeated acts of selfishness and immaturity, and found him no longer worth a roster spot.

He was suspended four games in 2006 for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He declined to undergo surgery on two torn knee ligaments before the 2008 season and ended up playing one game that year. He was arrested before last season over a domestic incident with Tequila. He missed the first two weeks of training camp this year in a contract dispute.

But there's minimal risk for the Bills. They're on the hook for the pro-rated remainder of Merriman's $3.27 million contract. They'll get a player who can help them avoid a winless season, perhaps spark Maybin and possibly stick around if he falls in love with the place.

Maybe -- just maybe -- Merriman will regain a semblance of his Pro Bowl form and maybe the Bills will have a fiery leader who maybe will want to stick around so they can build their 3-4 defense around him.

And if Merriman does leave via free agency, then the Bills likely would receive a compensatory draft pick dependent upon the size of the contract he signs and any additional guidelines set forth in the new collective bargaining agreement. Maybe the Bills get a fourth- or fifth-round pick out of the experience.

Thus far in 2010, the Bills have been in lose-only mode.

With Merriman, it's more like a no-lose situation.