And so, the grand experiment ends.
A bit surprisingly, but unceremoniously, the Bills cut defensive end/outside linebacker Shawne Merriman on Monday morning.
It will be interesting to see whether the 6-foot-4, 260-pound pass rush specialist has played his last game.
Chronologically, he’s in his prime and physically, he had pronounced himself in the best shape since his dominating days at San Diego.
But he was also coming off Achilles tendon surgery, a procedure from which pro athletes rarely fully recover.
No matter what, the injured leg never seems to regain its full muscle mass and strength.
In his first three seasons, Merriman, the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2005, recorded 40 sacks, and made the Pro Bowl each of those campaigns.
But then the injuries began to pile up.
Three of the last four years he ended on injured reserve and started only two games total, though in 2009 he managed to play 14 for the Chargers.
BUT THIS YEAR, no matter how he played, Merriman wasn’t going to start.
Signed by the Bills after San Diego released him in November of 2010, Merriman was viewed as an outside linebacker in Buffalo’s 3-4 scheme. But during his first practice with Buffalo, he aggravated the Achilles injury and went on IR.
Last season, Merriman played five games for the Bills, recording two sacks, but continuing problems with the Achilles — he eventually opted for surgery — and a shoulder injury again put him on injured reserve.
He returned this year and was back at end in new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt’s 4-3 scheme. But with the off-season acquisition of free-agent, pass-rush specialists Mario Williams, he of the $100 million contract, and Mark Anderson, former starter Chris Kelsay and Merriman were relegated to reserve status.
NOW, WITH Monday’s roster move, general manager Buddy Nix will likely get a major dose of second-guessing about his failed signing.
And that’s not totally fair.
The signing of a once-great player isn’t the issue nearly as much as the numbers it cost.
Nix, who spent seven seasons as the Chargers Director of Personnel, the last four of those also serving as assistant to General Manager A.J. Smith, had a hand in drafting Merriman.
He saw the former Maryland star at his very best and undoubtedly figured that if Merriman could get back to even 75 percent of where he was, it would still represent an upgrade for the Bills.
Unfortunately, Buffalo dramatically overpaid for his services.
Merriman was picked up off waivers and signed a two-year $10.5 million contract, of which $5 million was reportedly guaranteed, including $3 million this season.
Buffalo got precious-little for that investment and will be paying him this year ... even though he’s gone.
Still, except for the value of the contract, what Nix did isn’t unusual.
Pro sports are awash with unending examples of personal loyalty.
General managers hire staffers who have worked for them before ... coaches use the same approach with assistants ... and GMs have a weakness for players who have performed well for them at previous stops.
Indeed, when Nix signed Merriman, he pointed out that the Bills were one of several interested teams.
So don’t be stunned if Merriman resurfaces with another club before the season starts ... or in the early going.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)