If I were a carpenter...

The process of signing draft picks has now begun. While the Chargers have made solid progress to date, everyone wants to see Shawne Merriman signed before they allow the team to shed its "cheap" label. Each of the last three players drafted by the Chargers in the draft's top dozen has missed substantial time in training camp while engaged in a contract dispute, and the team would prefer not to go four for four.

Signing Shawne Merriman before camp starts is imperative, as he is being counted on to step in and start right away. Not only is he expected to add an explosive dynamic to the SAM linebacker position, but he is being counted on to cure many of the team's other ailments as well. He will restore a sense of ferociousness to the pass rush; he'll draw attention away from Steve Foley; he'll allow the secondary to cover their men for less time while being more aggressive in doing so.

That's the company line, anyway.

It seems as if everyone in Charger town has forgotten that Merriman was easily the Chargers grandest acquisition this offseason. It is important to remember why he was drafted as opposed focusing on why he was omni-absent.

Merriman has freakish athleticism for a man standing six-foot-four and weighing 272 lbs. A 4.65 time in the 40-yard dash and a 41.5 inch vertical are not numbers typically associated with a man of his stature; nor are his impressive weight room stats, what with him benching 385 lbs. and registering a 590 lb. squat. He is a monster, genetically altered by the football gods to chase the likes of Eli Manning all over the gridiron, and should be welcomed as such.

Not only should the fans re-embrace this black sheep of a draft pick, but the team should do the same. If Merriman can deliver and help complete the defense as the organization hopes he can, then he will be well worth extra money that his agent, Kevin Potson, will indisputably try and pry from this frugal organization.

Critics said the Chargers caved in when they met the demands of LaDainian Tomlinson's agent Tom Condon during Tomlinson's rookie hold out, but a few years of stellar play quieted those concerns in a hurry. If the Chargers bring Merriman into camp on time, he has the ability to play at a similarly elite level, making monetary concerns merely an afterthought.

It would be different if the value of Merriman's contract was totally up in the air, but the fact is it's not. Everyone knows that he well get paid less than DeMarcus Ware and more than Jammal Brown. It is also clear that he will get paid more than last year's twelfth selection, and just how much more will be in proportion with the increase in the salary cap from last year to this year.

All that is left to be determined is how the money will be spread out, what the incentives will be, and how his signing bonus will be prorated. While these are all important issues, there is not enough leeway there for one party to really stick it to the other one, although the Poston's will surely try to test that fate.

The Chargers may save a small amount if they hold to their conservative guns long enough, and Merriman may get a bit more up front money if he threatens to re-enter next year's draft; but what each party would gain via such a hold-out scenario is not nearly as important as what each would lose.

The Chargers need Merriman to be at his best out of the gates, and Merriman needs to familiarize himself with a new defense and new teammates.

Rookies that hold out fall behind, and when they are unsure about what they are supposed to be doing that uncertainty shows on the field. It is a well-documented fact that uncertainty leads to injury, and injuries hurt future contract negotiations.

If Merriman simply shows up, works hard and plays like he knows he can, he will make plenty of money not only through this contract, but through the subsequent one his efforts earn him as well. Because, while the Chargers may be stingy when it comes to paying rookies, they have proven this offseason that they are more than willing to reward their own. If Merriman plays this the right way he will be able to retire without having to worry about feeding his family, unlike Philadelphia's most-famous panhandler, Terrell Owens.

A deal will eventually be struck, and it is up to the Chargers to ensure that it is done sooner than later. Potson knows that the longer this drags out, the more leverage he and his client gain. The Chargers have a reputation for allowing rookies to miss camp, and the fans are fed up with it. The organization does not want to jeopardize all of the good will currently flowing throughout San Diego as a result of last year's surprise division championship.

The team needs to make this deal happen and they need to make it happen quick. It may cost them a little more on paper, but in the long run it will cost them a whole lot less.

Michael Lombardo can be reach at Lombardo@SanDiegoSports.net

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