Green Bay Packers: Edge Rusher Whitney Mercilus Would Bolster Pass Rush Depth

Oct 18, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Houston Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (59) talks to the camera during first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 18, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Houston Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (59) talks to the camera during first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports /

Will the Green Bay Packers sign a free agent edge rusher at some point this season? History says they won’t. But as we’ve seen over the last sixth months, Brian Gutekunst and Co. are operating much differently than what they have in years past as the 2021 season has a very real Last Dance feeling to it.

Between the restructured deals, the voided years added on to contracts that have pushed a massive amount of cap charges to 2022, along with the trade for Randall Cobb, and the signings of Jaylon Smith, Quinton Dunbar, and Rasul Douglas, among other things, these are all examples of moves that the Green Bay Packers likely wouldn’t have made in previous seasons.

So with that, maybe they would consider adding a veteran edge rusher to this team–because at the very minimum, they should at least entertain the idea.

The name of the game in football is pressuring the quarterback, and depth has very quickly become a concern at the edge rusher position for Green Bay.

We don’t know when or if Za’Darius Smith will be back; Chauncey Rivers was placed on IR recently with a knee injury, and Preston Smith left Sunday’s game against Chicago with an oblique injury–fortunately, it doesn’t sound too severe.

In terms of completely healthy options, that leaves the Packers with Rashan Gary, Jonathan Garvin, LaDarius Hamilton, and Tipa Galiea on the practice squad.

When healthy, the duo of Smith and Gary can certainly be quite formidable, but it’s not as if those two can take every snap, meaning that Green Bay is going to have to rely on several inexperienced players to play quite a few meaningful snaps this season.

On top of that, regardless of who it is, there’s the simple fact that this position group can’t handle another injury, especially if that injury occurs to Smith or Gary as it did a few days ago with Preston.

These are the big reasons as to why there is value in adding to the edge rusher room. In terms of cap space, the Green Bay Packers have $5.92 million in available space, according to Over the Cap. Not a lot by any means, but that very well could be enough to sign former Houston Texan Whitney Mercilus, who was just released on Monday evening.

The Green Bay Packers should target Whitney Mercilus to bolster their edge rusher depth.

Mercilus was a first-round pick by the Texans in the 2012 draft out of Illinois and has spent his entire career there. His most productive years came in 2015 when he posted 64 pressures and 15 sacks along with the 2016 season where Mercilus recorded 76 pressures and 11 sacks.

His 2017 season was shorted due to injury, but in 2018 and 2019, while his production dipped in comparison to his previous healthy years, Mercilus would still tally a combined 100 pressures and 14 sacks–not bad at all.

More recently, in 2020, Mercilus would miss three games that season and overall he saw his numbers take a drastic hit. Over 331 pass-rush snaps, he logged just 20 pressures along with five sacks. In fact, he was actually PFF’s ($$) lowest graded edge rusher that season.

This season, Mercilus has appeared in all six games, including two starts, but has just five pressures, three of which are sacks in 110 pass-rush reps. In this new Lovie Smith defense, Mercilus’ role has changed as he now has his hand in the dirt, and with that, there has been an adjustment period.

"“It’s been a little different, I’ll tell you that,” siad Mercilus via Texans Wire. “Because now it’s like my keys are shortened down to just reading tackles and tight ends and pre-snap reads, so I can’t see anything that’s post-snap or when motions happen, stuff like that, to get a beat on what might happen, things like that. It’s just reading my keys more so and locking in on that, and just letting instinct take over.”"

This was the final year of Mercilus’ contract with the Texans, and it came with a $4.5 million base salary and a $3.5 million bonus per Over the Cap. However, since he was released, the Green Bay Packers — or whoever signs him — is not beholden to that contract. Mercilus will sign a new deal wherever he goes.

As the numbers and tape show, the now 31-year-old Mercilus is not the player that he was back in 2015-2016, and if he did end up in Green Bay, that shouldn’t be what the expectations are.

Mercilus will, however, provide experienced depth, which is certainly valuable, and perhaps in a reduced rotational role — Gary and Smith are of course still going to be options 1A and 1B, and Jonathan Garvin will still see time as well — we could see more impact plays, especially in obvious passing situations or third downs, where he has found success in the past.

"“Mercilus should draw interest on the open market from teams looking for a rotational piece on third down,” said Battle Red Blog when describing the current state of Mercilus’ game. “Keep him fresh, and he’ll be a poor man’s version of Justin Houston, which would be a good thing.”"

Just as I mentioned back at the beginning, the name of the game in football is getting after the quarterback, and that is what Mercilus has done best throughout his career, ranking as one of the games more efficient pass rushers in 2015 and 2016 and still pressuring the quarterback with regularity as recently as 2018 and 2019.

But will the Packers bring him in? Well, that all depends on the amount of interest he draws from other teams, the cost, and whether Mercilus wants to play in Green Bay–the need for edge rusher depth is certainly there.

Given how Gutekunst has operated over these past six months, I do believe that there is a greater chance of this happening than in years past, but ultimately, we will have to wait and see.

At a minimum, the Green Bay Packers should at least be picking up the phone to gauge interest. Although Mercilus may not be a game-changer any more, he could certainly provide a premier position with a boost.