Chance to contend for a Super Bowl lures Whitney Mercilus to Packers

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Whitney Mercilus is 31 years old and coming from a team that is 5-19 over the last two seasons, so naturally the veteran edge rusher wanted to find a title contender to sign with after being released by the Houston Texans on Tuesday.

The Green Bay Packers ended up being the right fit for Mercilus, who officially signed on Thursday despite interest from several other teams.

“For me as far as the direction I want to go, it’s definitely being with a team that has a chance to make it to the playoffs and has a chance to make it to the Super Bowl and to be with a contender, honestly,” Mercilus told Aaron Wilson of SI.com.

The Packers are 5-1 and in control of the NFC North after six weeks.

Mercilus has played in eight career playoff games, and he went to the playoffs five times in his first nine seasons with the Texans, but Houston finished 4-12 last season and started 1-5 in 2021, giving Mercilus all the incentive he needed to pick a winner as a free agent.

The Packers have had more wins than any other team in football since 2019. A team that has been to the doorstep of the Super Bowl in back-to-back seasons needed help at edge rusher with Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith injured, so the timing for both Mercilus and the Packers was just about perfect.

Maybe playing leaving Houston and arriving in Green Bay can benefit Mercilus just like it has for Randall Cobb, who was traded to the Packers in August and has contributed to the passing game as a slot receiver.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Wednesday that going from a 1-5 team to a 5-1 team could breathe some life into a veteran player like Mercilus, who had three sacks in six games but has struggled to consistently get pressure.

Coach Matt LaFleur is excited to add a veteran at a premium position to the team.

“I think we’re pretty fortunate to get a guy of his caliber in at this time of the season,” LaFleur said.

The Packers coach wasn’t sure if Mercilus would be able to play Sunday against the Washington Football Team. Two weeks ago, the Packers signed Jaylon Smith on Thursday and then made him inactive on Sunday while he learned the defense and got comfortable in his new home. Smith finally made his Packers debut this past Sunday.

A similar path could be ahead for Mercilus, although rushing the quarterback takes less schematic knowledge than playing inside linebacker.

LaFleur thinks Mercilus can give the Packers a boost in the locker room and on the field.

“Everything I’ve heard about him as a man is A-plus. I’ve been on teams that have gone against him, and he’s always been a problem to play against,” LaFleur said. “He’s a guy you have to account for, and he’s been doing it for a long time at a high level. You usually don’t find those type of players at this juncture of the season.”

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