However, Merriman may opt for reconstructive knee surgery to fix all the structural issues with his knee, which would cause him to miss the entire season. If that's the path he chooses, how will the Chargers rebound?
Second-year linebacker Jyles Tucker would slide into the starting lineup. Tucker made a big impact late last season, tallying three sacks, a forced fumble and a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in the season finale, but he has yet to prove he can maintain that high level of play over a full season.
LB Shawne Merriman
Head Coach Norv Turner may tinker with sliding one of his many inside linebackers to the outside position. Anthony Waters could be a candidate for such a move, as the team has been searching for a way to find him more playing time. Waters has the size (6 foot 3, 238 lbs.) and explosiveness to be effective off the edge, although the Chargers may be hesitant to disrupt his development with a position change.
Nonetheless, it appears that Merriman's replacement would have to come from inside the organization. The free agent market has been stripped bare, with 10-year veteran Shawn Barber one of the few viable options still on the open market.
Although the forecasts for San Diego's Super Bowl chances sans Merriman have been mostly gloom and doom, a look back at the last two seasons tells a different story. During that span, the Chargers are 5-0 when Merriman doesn't play, so it is clear the team is capable of winning without him.
If Merriman does miss the season, it will cast a huge shadow of doubt over his long-term future with the team. Merriman is only under contract through the 2009 season, at which point fellow franchise cornerstones Philip Rivers, Marcus McNeill, Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson and Kassim Osgood are scheduled for unrestricted free agency, as well.
If the Chargers can survive -- or even thrive -- without Merriman in 2008, it will make him all the more expendable after the following season.
The hope, of course, is that Merriman is able to play in 2008. And as of now, no decision has been made to eliminate that possibility. However, if "Lights Out" elects to sit out, several young replacements will have to step in and start lighting up opposing quarterbacks.