Buffalo Bills fans awoke to a bit of a shock Monday with the news that the team was releasing oft-injured former superstar Shawne Merriman.
Though coach Chan Gailey had been talking up Merriman's progress in training camp, often heard declaring how the seven-year linebacker/defensive end was healthy and ready to contribute in the rebuilt 4-3 defense in Buffalo,
It may have all just been a ruse to try and attract a trade offer. It's a moot point now, because whether he was 100 percent for 2012 or not, it appears that the Bills just couldn't justify keeping him on the team any further, either from a financial or football standpoint.
Granted, they still have to pay him $3 million that will apply to this season's salary cap, but that's the other part of the $5 million they guaranteed him when he signed in 2011, so nothing can be done about that.
The remainder of the $10.5 million from his two-year deal can now be focused towards other players the Bills decided were more essential to their success in the upcoming season.
Names like Dwan Edwards (who's set to make around $4.2 million as a backup defensive lineman if he remains) and Kyle Moore, a fourth-year end from the Buccaneers who has been impressing thus far in the preseason with some decent action in the Minnesota game (three tackles in relief) and a solid training camp.
Moore had been getting more reps this offseason in camp and was initially moved up from the practice squad last season (his first in Buffalo) after Merriman was deactivated Week 6 due to a nagging Achilles injury (the same one that sidelined him in 2010), as well as a shoulder issue.
After successful surgery on the tendon, Shawne had been seemingly ready to go for 2012, proclaiming he "felt the best [he'd] felt in years" and even looking pretty aggressive on the field when brought in to replace Mario Williams or Mark Anderson in the first two preseason games.
However, the contract he signed back in 2011 always did seem a little over-bloated for a player on the downside of his career and whose biggest contribution to the Bills was helping bring in linebacker Nick Barnett (a great signing to be sure, but still not worth over $10 million.. or even $5 million).
Other than that, Shawne, who was claimed off waivers from San Diego in 2010, played in a grand total of five regular season games with Buffalo and only had nine tackles and a sack in roughly a season and a half of opportunities.
It was why the Chargers released him in the first place, as Merriman's injuries had prevented him from ever regaining what he had in his initial three NFL seasons (2005-2007: 42 games, 187 tackles, 39.5 sacks; 2008-present: 23 games, 53 tackles, 5 sacks).
Now, if the opinions of the amateur prognosticators and predictors of the NFL are to be believed (read: the Internet), many think he'll end up on another AFC East squad, as Merriman's glory days in San Diego saw him playing at outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, usually with great success when he was healthy (it was one of the reasons the Bills kept him around for 2011).
Both the rival Jets and Patriots fit this bill and have been known to pick up a veteran once-was, sometimes getting their careers back on track in the process.
However, they're not all success stories (especially in Boston of late... see Haynesworth and Ochocinco) and Merriman might also be lured to a young team looking to entice a veteran to help their rookies along in those formative years... say, the Colts, maybe (who also play a 3-4).
Either way, it'll likely be at a significantly lower price than Buffalo would have had to dole out this year.
Regardless, the former Defensive Rookie of the Year (2005) showed a true loyalty to Buffalo in his time in the Queen City, doing what he could off the field when injuries sidelined him and often cheering the Bills on through his Twitter.
As a result, Shawne had become something of a sympathetic favorite among Bills fans, one that many were excited to see make the team now that he was professing, "I'm moving around as I did when I came into the league".
Unfortunately, the truth of his statement will have to be judged by fans in some other city, as though he's likely to still play some football before his career is over, the light's been put out on Merriman's time in Buffalo.
As for his last Tweet to the Bills and their fans, it read, "I want to say Thanks to the Organization, the Coaches, my teammates & the fans you guys have been great & I'll be looking forward to the chapter."
Too bad he couldn't have stayed, because regardless of his checkered past, he was nothing but class in the Queen City, with his parting message proving to be no different.
Really, it's too bad. Good luck with what's next, Shawne and thanks for your efforts; we barely got to know you, but you'll always be welcome back (out of uniform, of course).