ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Shawne Merriman will get the chance to turn on the lights in Buffalo.
Chris Kelsay can’t wait.
Bills linebacker Kelsay perked up when word began filtering through the locker room that the winless team was prepared to claim Shawne Merriman off waivers.
“We need more playmakers,” Kelsay said Wednesday. “And if he can come in here and do that for us, we’ll welcome him with open arms.”
Consider it done.
Having the NFL’s worst record has at least one perk: At 0-7, the Bills took advantage of having first crack at acquiring the one-time feared pass rusher because waived players are awarded to the worst team that submits a claim.
“It changes the conversation because we all know what he can do,” said safety Donte Whitner. “I think it’ll be huge. I think it’ll be big for us.”
The move was made by first-year general manager Buddy Nix, who is familiar with Merriman. Nix previously worked in the Chargers’ front office when they drafted the outside linebacker with the 12th pick in 2005. Merriman won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award in ’05.
It’s unclear when the 26-year-old Merriman will join the Bills, who play Chicago (4-3) at Toronto on Sunday.
“We think Shawne can help our defense,” Nix said in a statement released by the team. “He has been an impact player in a 3-4 defense, and we feel this is a good opportunity to make our team better.”
To make room on the roster, the Bills placed offensive tackle Cornell Green on injured reserve. Green had started the first five games at right tackle before sustaining a knee injury.
Nicknamed “Lights Out,” Merriman is a three-time Pro Bowl selection. In 60 career games, he has 43½ sacks — but only four in his past three seasons.
Injuries and both on- and off-field controversies combined to end Merriman’s tenure in San Diego. The decision to waive him came three weeks ago, when San Diego placed him on the injured reserve list because of a calf injury. Merriman went on the list with a “minor-injury designation,” meaning he was to be released once healthy. In claiming Merriman, the Bills pick up what’s left of the player’s one-year $3.27 million contract.
Despite the Bills’ numerous needs after getting off to their worst start in 26 years, the decision to claim Merriman is an eye-opener. Nix previously said he was not interested in adding high-profile players, and instead was focused on rebuilding through the draft.
Of course, Merriman can serve as a one-year quick fix to bolster a defense that’s both porous against the run and having difficulty generating a pass rush. Buffalo ranks last in the NFL, allowing nearly 189 yards rushing per game — and has already allowed 200 or more yards rushing four times this season.
The Bills have also managed 11 sacks, failing to replace their leading pass rusher, Aaron Schobel, who was released in August after he couldn’t make up his mind on retirement. The lack of a pass rush has hurt the team’s defense, which has only one interception after finishing second in the NFL with 28 in 2009.
Merriman’s numbers have plummeted, too.
He missed most of the 2008 season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery, and had only four sacks last year while attempting to find his hard-hitting form.
After sitting out most offseason workouts and part of training camp to protest his contract status, he was slowed by an Achilles’ tendon injury and then a calf injury. He had only five tackles and no sacks in limited action this year.
Merriman was also suspended four games in 2006 after testing positive for steroids. He blamed the positive test on a tainted supplement, which he never identified.
He also brought unwanted attention off the field. He was arrested just before the 2009 season after reality television star Tila Tequila accused him of battery and false imprisonment at his suburban San Diego home. No charges were filed, and Merriman and Tequila settled dueling lawsuits.
Bills linebacker Aaron Maybin was most excited about the news, even though Merriman’s addition will push the 2009 first-round draft pick down the depth chart.
Maybin was 13 when he first met Merriman, and the two became close while growing up in the Baltimore area. Inactive the past two games, Maybin believes Merriman can serve as a mentor to help him develop.
“It’s definitely an exciting opportunity,” said Maybin, who has yet to get a sack in 21 career games. “He’s an outstanding playmaker. And defensively, what he’s done in his career, speaks for itself.”
AP Sports Writer Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.