By Ross Tucker
August 29, 2008

With no football to play for the first time in 18 years, former pro Ross Tucker is passing the time reading about his favorite sport. What follows are a few links to NFL-related articles he found and his take on them.

I am sick and tired of reading and hearing all of the media pundits and fans denigrating Shawne Merriman for his decision to play football in 2008 despite reportedly having PCL and LCL tears in his knee. I wonder if some of these folks are the same ones who were criticizing LaDainian Tomlinson and questioning his toughness when he could not play in the AFC Championship Game loss to the New England Patriots last season.

Tomlinson is beyond reproach in my book and his toughness and productivity the past seven years speak for themselves. But I digress. The reason I am so angered by the overwhelmingly negative response is very simple: It is Merriman's life and ultimately his decision and he can do with it what he wants.

I highly doubt I would be making the same decision if I were in Merriman's shoes. Though I don't exactly know his personal health situation, if the reports are accurate, he is risking both the rest of his career as well as his long-term personal health by playing with torn ligaments in his knee. It could greatly impact his next contract, a contract that would potentially be record-breaking if Merriman returns in 2009 and puts out the type of performance we have come to expect from him.

But that is not the point. How I feel or anyone else feels doesn't matter. That is because it is a personal decision.

Merriman is not some undrafted free agent from Podunk State who is just taking the team doctor's word for it and playing on a bum knee. In fact, if you include the Chargers team orthopedic, Merriman met with five different doctors before coming to this conclusion. He is making this decision with his eyes wide open. He understands the potentially adverse consequences and is willing to live with them should it get to that point. He understands he will have to get surgery at some point. He's just not ready for that now, on the cusp of a season opener for a football team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.

The reality of the game is player's play -- and play well -- through injuries all the time. That is just part of being a professional football player. Again, would I begin a season or try to make it through an entire year with an injury like Merriman's? Probably not, but I did play the last month of a season with a herniated disc in my back that was tremendously painful. It required surgery at multiple disc levels following the last game.

Stuff like that happens all the time in the NFL, more than the casual fan would ever know. Did you ever notice how many players have off-season surgery?

News flash: That means they played with injuries that required surgery, but they delayed that surgery until after the season. The difference in Merriman's situation is the regular season has not even begun yet and his injury has become very public.

And therein lies the real problem. It is not a public decision. It's a personal one.

One more note on Merriman. There is some speculation opponents will intentionally try to go after Merriman's knee to do him harm. I highly doubt that. I have never seen a player intentionally try to injure another player. The game is so fast it is nearly impossible for someone to have the wherewithal to consciously make that decision and then carry it out.

That being said, Merriman is well aware this is the National Football League and it is a serious business played by men who are providing a living for their families. He knows all too well he will be shown no favor, no mercy, when he steps inside those white lines. And that as much as anything is what probably made his personal decision such a difficult one.

Derrick Harvey, another player that has been roundly criticized, in this case for his extended holdout, has finally signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Though there are some reports out there that Harvey's deal had been on the table since July and thus the holdout was a complete waste, two important points need to be made.

The first is any criticism thrown at the Harvey camp for his holdout should be leveled at his representation and not the player. Harvey likely interviewed a number of different agents before finally choosing to put his faith and trust into Ken Kremer and CAA. Once he makes that decision, he must believe Kremer is working and acting in his best interest. If not, he should not have hired him in the first place. If Kremer believed Harvey was getting a raw or below market deal, Kremer needed to tell Harvey to stick to his guns, which it appears he did. And Harvey needs to keep the faith he showed in hiring him.

The second point is Harvey signed a five-year deal and though he may have a minimal impact now in year one, all that truly matters for his personal financial situation is how he performs in years three and four of this contract. If he is playing well at that time he will get a big second contract and missing his rookie training camp will be relatively meaningless. The fans and coaches don't like to hear it but that is the economic reality of the situation.

Ken Whisenhunt's decision to start Kurt Warner in the final preseason game can only be seen as an indictment of Matt Leinart and a golden opportunity for Warner. My guess is Warner is the starter in Arizona as long as he plays at a competent level in the fourth exhibition game.

It is a move Whisenhunt likely has to make. He opened it up to a competition and said all along that the best guy would play. He was also quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying if it was close, Leinart would be the guy.

But it likely isn't close in the minds of a lot of Cardinals players. They understand Leinart was a first-round pick and the financial ramifications that go along with that. Though they would deal with Leinart being the starter, Whisenhunt risks losing the locker room if it is plainly clear to the player's that they have a better chance to win with Warner under center.

You can't fool the guys in the locker room, because they know. And so does Whisenhunt -- he used to be a player himself.

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