SAN DIEGO -- The surgeon's knife can wait. Shawne Merriman is going to play football, two torn knee ligaments and all.
A day after visiting a fourth doctor, the San Diego Chargers' star outside linebacker decided Wednesday to play this season rather than have surgery on his damaged left knee.
"To be as simple as possible, I just want to play football," Merriman said. "That's what it comes down to. I know what's on the table, I know what's on the line. I put a lot of work in this and I want to play."
According to NFL Network's Adam Schefter, Merriman's contract has a maximum escalator of $4.4 million in 2009 -- the final season of his original five-year deal. He has earned $2.85 million so far, and this year he could earn the remaining $1.55 million if he makes the Pro Bowl again.
Merriman, 24, said late last week that he has tears in both the posterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee, which he hurt in a game at Tennessee in December. He spent several days seeking outside opinions, including renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. He returned Tuesday after seeing a doctor in Miami.
Merriman said all four doctors he saw said he needed surgery, but there "just wasn't a time frame on that. My knee still looks pretty good. The decision was left up to me to play. If you give a football player a decision to play, you know, I'm going to play."
When he does have surgery, he'll be looking at a rehab of six to seven months.
"I'll have the surgery at any point," he said. "Nobody knows. I kind of left it on the table when to have it. Not even doctors can tell me that."
While denying reports the situation could be career-threatening, he pledged to be "the same old Shawne Merriman. That's what I'm hoping."
With his nonstop energy and spasmodic sack dance, the player known as "Lights Out" has been the face of the Chargers' defense the past three seasons. He has 39½ sacks in that span, more than any other NFL player, and has played in three consecutive Pro Bowls.
Star running back LaDainian Tomlinson, knocked out of last season's AFC championship game after aggravating a knee injury, was happy to hear of Merriman's decision.
"How do you tell a warrior to sit down? That's what he is, a warrior. He's trained for this. It's hard to tell a guy to sit down," Tomlinson said.
"Obviously it was a big relief for a lot of us. We all know what Shawne brings to this team, especially the defense," the running back added. "He's an impact player, a difference-maker. You just kept your fingers crossed that he was going to be able to play. But I think in the back of all our minds, knowing Shawne, we know what was in his heart and that he really wanted to play, and that any cost possible he was going to find a way to get out there on that field."
As he was seeking medical advice, Merriman said he was also talking with teammates, family members and friends, as well as coaches with the Chargers and from high school and college.
"But they all know me," he said. "It's not a decision of anything else but me wanting to play football, and whether that's a good decision or not, I'm going to go out and try first to see what I want to do."
Coach Norv Turner expects Merriman to play in the opener against Carolina at home on Sept. 7.
"It is something he has put an awful lot of time into and we are going to manage it and hope he can manage it and be ready to play," Turner said. "We are not going to put him on the field if he's not able to go out and perform and he is not going to want to be out there if he doesn't feel like he can perform."
Merriman said he will continue to wear a brace on the knee, as he did last season after hurting it. He worked out on a side field on Wednesday while his teammates went through a regular practice.
Merriman had offseason arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in the knee. He said it didn't become a problem until he started doing more and more work during training camp.
"The days he practiced out here, was going 100 percent, he looked like Shawne Merriman to me," Turner said. "It is going to be something he has to manage. I see him going out and playing. Playing on first and second downs and playing on third downs and rushing the passer. If managing it means reducing his snaps at different times or picking specific situations where he doesn't need to be on the field, that is what we will do."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.