LB Shawne Merriman (Donald Miralle/Getty)
It appears Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman's season is over before it got started. Or at the very least, it will be compromised because of two torn ligaments in his knee. Merriman, who has mores sacks (39.5) the past three seasons than any other player, is contemplating playing through the pain or taking care of his wobbly knee.
"It could be career threatening if I (play)," Shawne Merriman said. "It's a possibility."
Merriman has crisscrossed the nation speaking with specialists as he contemplates how to deal with torn posterior and lateral cruciate ligaments.
"I've been seeing some really great doctors over the past few days, and they've all said the same things about the injury," said Merriman, who last played in the Chargers' Aug. 9 preseason opener against the Cowboys. "(They're) kind of surprised that I've been playing with it up to this point."
Merriman, who calls the knee "very unstable," had his meniscus repaired five months ago. But the ligament damage is causing considerable pain.
Clouding Merriman's decision is his contract status -- his deal runs out after the 2009 season.
Here's a brief look at Merriman's options:
--Merriman's injury hasn't prevented him from working on the side; he also played in the Aug. 9 exhibition opener and had a tackle. But the pain is proving to be too severe. If he's hurting this much before embarking on a season the club expects will extend past the 16-game, regular season, that has to weigh on Merriman's mind.
The Chargers have other key players -- quarterback Philip Rivers and left tackle Marcus McNeill -- whose contracts end in 2009 too.
It's doubtful they keep all three. If Merriman is confident the Chargers won't extend his contract, why wouldn't he get his knee fixed now and parlay that into a big payday come 2010?
While eager to be part of what could be a special Chargers team, Merriman might contemplate how he'll feel in February if his knee is revolting this much in August. Can he fight through the pain?
--Maybe Merriman has arthroscopic surgery, which stabilizes the knee and allows him to put off a more serious operation until after the season. If this option is viable, he might miss the first month of the season. Then he returns for the final 12 games and playoffs.
--If Merriman elects to have the ligament repaired, he faces an estimated nine-month recovery period. That would stabilize the knee, but derail his season.
But the caveat is if he erased '08, his knee could help him excel in '09. That may trump everything because Merriman is a free agent after the '09 season and would be looking for a new contract off that year.
The Chargers remain confident that Merriman will play this season. But they seem to be in the minority clutching that opinion with the reality being the Chargers are likely without one of the NFL's top defensive players this season.
If Merriman can't go, he would be replaced by Jyles Tucker and possibly Marques Harris. They are decent players but they are not Shawne Merriman.
Merriman is still holding out hope he can play in 2008.
"That's first and foremost," the three-time Pro Bowler said. "That's what I want to do. That's why this decision is even out there still and not already made, because I want to play, period. The question is, what should I do? How long should I play with it?
"It's a thousand different options at this point, and I'm just trying to make the best one."
--LT Marcus McNeill is still bothered by a stinger in his neck; he hopes to return to practice this week.
--FB Andrew Pinnock is getting back into game-mode -- finally -- after offseason microfracture knee surgery.
--WR Vincent Jackson is back working after skipping a significant number of practices with a tender hamstring. The team has said it is merely being cautious with its No. 2 wide receiver.
--OL Scott Mruczkowski has returned to practice after suffering a foot injury. He is a critical backup on a line that has been hit by the injury bug.
--ILB Derek Smith is starting to run with the first unit more as the season opener approaches. Smith will fill in for the first four games while Stephen Cooper serves his suspension.
--FB Mike Tolbert, an undrafted rookie, has all but earned a roster spot. He's played well and the team is still not sure when FB Andrew Pinnock will be a full-go.
--CB Antoine Cason, the team's top pick, is holding down the role as the nickel back.
--RT Jeromey Clary needs to finish strong -- he's had an uneven camp and is being pushed by L.J. Shelton.