Chargers turn lights out on 'Lights Out' Merriman
SAN DIEGO—The San Diego Chargers have turned out the lights on the player known as "Lights Out."
Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, once one of the most-feared players in the NFL, was placed on the injured reserve list because of a calf injury and a "minor-injury designation" on Wednesday. Merriman must be released once he's healthy, the team said.
Technically, the Chargers could re-sign the controversial player. That almost certainly won't happen, though, because general manager A.J. Smith hasn't been a fan of Merriman's celebrity-leaning lifestyle.
Known as "Lights Out" because of his once-ferocious hits, Merriman had 39 1/2 sacks in his first three seasons. He's had only four in the three seasons since then due to a variety of injuries.
He was suspended for four games in 2006 after testing positive for steroids. Even missing the four games, he had 17 sacks that year. Merriman blamed the positive test on a tainted supplement, which he never identified.
He also brought unwanted attention off the field. He was arrested just before the 2009 season after reality television star Tila Tequila accused him of battery and false imprisonment at his suburban San Diego home. No charges were filed, and Merriman and Tequila settled dueling lawsuits.
Merriman missed most of the 2008 season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery. He had four sacks last year as he tried to regain his hard-hitting form. After sitting out most offseason workouts and part of training camp to protest his contract status, he was slowed by an Achilles' injury and then a calf injury.
He had only five tackles and no sacks in limited action this year.
Smith didn't return a call seeking comment.
Merriman, who's been on the trading block for some time, declined to comment when contacted via e-mail.
However, a publicist released a statement in which Merriman was quoted as saying, "I am approaching this situation as an opportunity to grow as a player and to bring my leadership and talents to a new organization. I am ready for the next chapter in my career and I am excited about the opportunity to continue my journey with a new team."
Coach Norv Turner said he doesn't think Merriman's recent injuries were related to his knee surgery two years ago.
"He's had these muscle deals and he hasn't let it heal," Turner said.
"We've been trying hard to get Shawne back on the field," Turner said. "It's been a process that we've worked real hard it and it just wasn't happening. I think this will give him the chance to get healthy without the pressure of trying to get ready to play. We need guys to play games."
Asked if the prognosis was so bad that it wasn't worth holding onto Merriman's rights for the rest of the season, Turner said: "Those are questions regarding long-term and I'm not going to get into that right now."
Fellow outside linebacker Shaun Phillips said he was sad to see Merriman go.
"For me it's upsetting because he was a friend of mine. That's why it's hard to see him go," Phillips said "But I've found that this league stands for Not For Long for a reason. I've seen hundreds of people come and go. I wish him the best and he's the homie, he's a good friend of mine so I know he's going to do good whatever he decides to do."
Merriman was the 12th pick overall in the 2005 draft, coming to the Chargers with one of the picks Smith got from the New York Giants in the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers swap on draft day 2004. Merriman was The AP's Defensive Rookie of the Year after getting 10 sacks in 2005. He made the Pro Bowl after each of his first three seasons, and was named All-Pro in 2006 despite the suspension.
The Chargers drafted outside linebacker Larry English in the first round in 2009 as Merriman's eventual replacement. English had only two sacks last year. He recently had foot surgery and has missed three games, and is expected to miss two to four more games.
The Chargers (2-3), struggling due to special teams breakdowns and turnovers, signed linebacker Antwan Barnes to take Merriman's roster spot.
Barnes spent his first three seasons in Baltimore and was traded to Philadelphia on Sept. 4 for a seventh-round draft choice. Barnes was waived by the Eagles on Saturday.
Barnes had five sacks in three seasons with Baltimore, and intercepted San Diego's Philip Rivers when the Ravens faced the Chargers in 2009.
San Diego also added receiver Kole Heckendorf to the practice squad.