Everyone knows that the Chargers' pass defense needs improving, seeing as they ranked as the second worst pass defending team in the league last year. So while chemistry and a second year in the new defense will help the pass defense progress, a talent infusion is still very necessary.
The Chargers faced 607 pass attempts last year, the most in the entire league. Still they managed only 29 sacks, a total only three teams failed to surpass. Stellar pass-rushing talent is a priority, especially since division foes Trent Green, Jake Plummer and Kerry Collins averaged 4,058.3 passing yards between them in 2004.
If the Chargers can't get Merriman to sign by a reasonable date, they may be tempted to look outside the organization for help. Although the Peter Boulwares of the world may make that a tempting option, the team would be wise to sit on their roster as is.
The logic behind that belief is as follows: If Merriman insists on conducting a Philip Rivers-like holdout, there are plenty of players already on the Chargers' roster ready to make a Drew Brees-like resurgence.
Even though the Chargers handle the signing of high draft picks about as poorly as George W. Bush handles words with multiple syllables, they have actually made some very intelligent moves to protect themselves in case something just like this were to happen.
This team is far too prepared to rely on a single player to carry their season for them, and the proof in the pudding; or in this case, the depth chart. Preparations began in the 2004 draft, when the team selected Shaun Phillips in the fourth round. A former defensive end at Purdue, Phillips posted 22 tackles, four sacks and an interception in limited playing time as a rookie linebacker for the Chargers.
Following the 2004 draft the team signed Howard Hodges as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa. He spent his rookie year on the practice squad, and his summer in NFL Europe as a member of the Frankfurt Galaxy. Hodges was a dynamic pass rusher while at Iowa, and should merit the same description in San Diego once he becomes comfortable in the defense.
Cynics will say that Phillips and Hodges don't have the size or explosiveness possessed by Merriman. They will also say that they don't have the big-hit ability or intimidating demeanor that Merriman brings to the field. Keep in mind, however, that these are the same cynics who said that Brees was too short and had too weak an arm to win in this league.
The problem with the cynics is that they can always find reasons and numbers to explain why a player or a team is failing. But what they fail to realize is that there is no way to quantify a player's will to succeed.
Just as Brees stepped up last year and turned to offense's biggest question mark into an exclamation point, someone will do the same this year on defense. Whether it's Phillips, Hodges, or even incumbent Ben Leber, this defense will not deem the season a wash if Merriman decides he doesn't want to come out and play.
The Chargers need to improve their pass rush, but the temptation to seek help outside the organization should be ignored as if it were Bill O'Reilly. The Chargers have the talent and confidence necessary to improve their pass rush with or without Shawne Merriman.
If Merriman signs early enough to make an impact, that's terrific. If he wants to holdout, then he can sit at home until he is blue in the face, or until the desire to bank some green becomes too irresistible. When he does show up, he will be welcomed with open arms, and sent right to his spot at the back of the line.