Merriman drops appeal, begins suspension

Published: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
SAN DIEGO - The San Diego Chargers must play their next four games without outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, one of the NFL's top young stars who decided Tuesday not to appeal his suspension for testing positive for steroids.
Merriman's suspension is another blow to one of the NFL's toughest defenses, which has been hit by injuries and off-field trouble since before the season started. Nicknamed "Lights Out" because of his punishing hits, he'll be shut down for games at home against Cleveland, at Cincinnati, at Denver and at home against the Oakland Raiders.
Merriman, who's tied for the NFL lead with 8 sacks, and his attorney have blamed a tainted supplement for the player's positive test for the steroid nandrolone. Merriman couldn't be reached for comment.
The suspension won't officially begin until after Merriman addresses his teammates today. After that, he'll be barred from the team's headquarters until he's eligible to return on Nov. 27.
The Chargers, who were off Tuesday, vowed to press on without Merriman, a Pro Bowl starter who was voted the 2005 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
"He's upset because he let his team down, but we're OK," outside linebacker Shaun Phillips said in a phone interview. "We're behind him 100 percent. We know he's not that kind of guy, that he wouldn't do anything to boost his performance.
"We're a good team. We'll get over it," said Phillips, who moved into the starting lineup after Steve Foley was shot by an off-duty police officer on Sept. 3. Phillips missed Sunday's 38-24 win over the St. Louis Rams with a calf injury and has only a 50 percent chance of playing against the Browns.
Had Merriman gone through with the appeal and lost, there was the chance he'd miss both games against Denver. The Chargers host the Broncos on Dec. 10. Few people expected Merriman to win on appeal because the NFL holds players accountable for knowing the contents of the supplements they take.
Word of Merriman's positive test leaked on Oct. 22. Merriman announced last Tuesday he was appealing, and matched his career-high with three sacks against the Rams. He celebrated each as he usually does, by pretending to flip a switch tattooed on his forearm followed by a spasmodic dance.
Carlos Polk is expected to start in Merriman's place.
"We're obviously going to support Shawne and we'll prepare for the alternatives much the way we would if we had a player who wasn't available for other reasons," coach Marty Schottenheimer said by phone. "We'll put the pieces together and go back to work."
Merriman apologized to his teammates last Monday for the distraction his positive test caused. But Schottenheimer and other players said it would be a distraction only if they let it.
"The way we performed with this information out there would indicate it was not a distraction," Schottenheimer said.
While Phillips is expected to be listed as questionable for the Browns game, end Igor Olshansky (knee) is expected to be doubtful due to a knee injury.
General manager A.J. Smith and Merriman's attorney, David Cornwell, didn't return calls seeking comment.
The team released this statement: "We're proud of the standup way Shawne has taken responsibility for the mistake he made. We have faith in Shawne Merriman and we have faith in the players on this team. The Chargers have been resilient all season long, and we will continue to be resilient. It's a tough lesson learned for Shawne about the world of supplements."
Besides Merriman's suspension, the Chargers have had five separate off-field issues dating back to April.
Foley was shot three times near his suburban home early on Sept. 3 by an off-duty police officer who suspected him of drunk driving. Foley will miss the entire season and was charged with two counts of DUI.
Safety Terrence Kiel was arrested on five felony drug counts in September and has pleaded not . He missed one game.
Cornerback Markus Curry, who had been demoted to the practice squad, was released on Oct. 9, just hours after he was arrested on suspicion of committing domestic violence.
Foley and Phillips were each arrested for scuffling with San Diego police officers a week apart in April. Neither was charged.
n JETS: Coach Eric Mangini insisted Curtis Martin has not yet decided to end his season, despite a published report that the NFL's No. 4 career rusher has told members of the team he won't return this year.
"There has been no decision," Mangini said when addressing the story in The Star-Ledger.
The newspaper, quoting anonymous teammates and a team official, reported that Martin has already said he won't be able to play this season because of a bone-on-bone condition in his right knee that has sidelined him since late last year. The report also said Martin is close to retiring.
"I don't really know who that would be or where that information came from, so it's hard for me to make a determination on it unless they sign their name to it," Mangini said.
Martin was unavailable for comment, and Eugene Parker, the running back's agent, didn't immediately return a call to his office from The Associated Press.
The 33-year-old Martin, who has rushed for 14,101 yards, was eligible to come off the physically-unable-to-perform list Oct. 16, but the team announced he'd remain on it until after the game at Cleveland last Sunday. On Monday, Mangini said he spoke with Martin, general manager Mike Tannenbaum and the Jets' medical staff last week and they chose to hold off until next week on making a decision on whether Martin would rejoin the team and practice.
Mangini said there was no change in status on that issue Tuesday.
"What I'm going by is the conversations that I've had with Curtis, and we talk quite regularly," he said. "He's talked with me and Mike and talked to the doctors, so we're now basing this decision on information and discussions that I've had specifically with Curtis - and that's what I go by."
Many of Martin's teammates were still holding out hope that he'll return.
"Every time I ask him, he says he's doing well," linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. "I hope that if and whenever he does come back, he comes back and plays well."
If the players had any insight on the situation, they weren't saying so publicly.
"To be honest, that's not a concern of mine," receiver Laveranues Coles said. "What Curtis does is Curtis' business. All I can do is worry about Laveranues."
Added guard Pete Kendall: "I'm not really in the loop in that situation, so when I hear it from Curtis, then I'll know. Until then, we'll wait and see what happens."
The Star-Ledger report also suggested Martin has slowed his rehab and become increasingly less visible at team meetings. Not so, said Mangini.
"Curtis has been here every single day except days where I've told you about where I've personally excused him for something, and those have been few and far between. And he's been a huge asset to those guys," he said. "He's like everybody else. Every morning I look out and every morning there's Curtis, second row from the end, four or five seats in - and he got his question right the other day."
According to NFL rules, a player on the PUP list can't be cleared to practice until after Week 6. Then, a team has three weeks to decide whether to allow that player to start practicing. The deadline for the Jets is next Tuesday.
If Martin is cleared to practice, the team would have three weeks from that date to either place him on the active roster or put him on injured reserve and end his season.
n EAGLES: Will Peterson has a new team and a new name.
The former New York Giants cornerback signed a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. He also dropped his last name and is going by William James now.
To make room on the roster, the Eagles released cornerback/returner Dexter Wynn.
"For two years, I've been thinking about the name change. William James represents a change in me, a change in my mind-state," James said in a conference call.
Once considered one of the top young players at his position, James hasn't played in a game since last September because of a back injury. He joins a solid group of defensive backs that includes starting cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown and nickel back Rod Hood.
"William is someone that we have liked for a long time, going back to when I was in Miami when he was coming out in the draft," Eagles general manager Tom Heckert said. "We obviously know him very well from playing against him two times a year while he was with the Giants. He's a really good cover corner who has good size and when healthy, he was a very productive player for the Giants. We feel very confident that he will help us in the near future."
At 6-foot, the 27-year-old James is taller than Philadelphia's other cornerbacks. He spent five seasons in New York after being selected in the third round of the 2001 draft. James played in 51 games, including 39 starts, had 199 tackles and five interceptions.
James signed a five-year, $27 million contract extension before the 2004 season, but never lived up to his promise mainly because of injuries. He played just two games last season before landing on injured reserve with a back problem. He was released in May and spent several months rehabbing.
"I was very frustrated," James said. "I had made great strides in '04. Going into '05, I anticipated getting recognition as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. That's still my goal."
The Eagles had injury problems in their secondary earlier this season with Sheppard and Hood missing a total of seven games, but the entire unit played in Sunday's 13-6 loss to Jacksonville.

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