GREEN BAY - There aren’t a lot of options for replacing a veteran pass rusher in the middle of an NFL season, but the Green Bay Packers believe free agent Whitney Mercilus can fill some of the void created by injuries to outside linebackers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith.
Aaron Wilson of SportsTalk79 in Houston first reported the expected agreement between Mercilus and the Packers. Coach Matt LaFleur wouldn’t confirm the addition, but all but confirmed the Packers’ intent by saying he couldn’t comment until it was official.
The 6-4, 258-pound Mercilus has been a mainstay on the Houston Texans' defense since joining the club as a first-round pick in 2012, manning the spot opposite All-Pro end J.J. Watt, whom the team released this past offseason. Mercilus, 31, has 57 career sacks with a high of 12 in 2015, but over the past four years he has had four, 7½, one and four. In ’17, when he only had one sack, he missed 11 games due to injury.
This season, Mercilus has three sacks and a tackle for loss. He started two of the Texans’ six games before they decided to part ways. Mercilus has $6 million of his contract guaranteed this year, but the Packers won’t have to pay that. Since he was exempt from waivers, the Packers didn’t have to pick up his contract and were able to negotiate a new deal.
The Packers were surviving without Za’Darius Smith, who is out indefinitely following back surgery, but an oblique injury to Preston Smith suffered against Chicago on Sunday has created a depth problem.
Preston Smith is questionable for the Washington game Sunday and if he were to not play, the Packers’ outside linebackers would consist of Rashan Gary, Jonathan Garvin and La’Darius Hamilton. Gary has fulfilled the team’s expectations for him as a pass rusher this season (1½ sacks and 11 quarterback knockdowns, the latter of which ranks fifth in the NFL) and Garvin has 1½ sacks, four quarterback hits and a tackle for loss.
Hamilton was signed off Tampa Bay’s practice squad Sept. 20, and he has played in two games, logging one quarterback hit in 31 snaps. In addition, the Packers have used inside linebacker Oren Burks outside and could use him there extensively if necessary.
Mercilus might be able to help the Packers as soon as this week’s game against Washington. The Packers would easily be able to create a third-down “sub” package for him that wouldn’t require a lot of knowledge of the defense.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he thought Mercilus could have an impact if he gets 15 to 20 pass-rushing snaps per game. Rodgers said sometimes when a veteran goes from a bad team like the Texans to a good team like the Packers, it can breathe life into him.
Mercilus had multiple offers upon being released, including the Kansas City Chiefs, per multiple reports.
LaFleur said it’s not a given that Preston Smith will miss the Washington game. He said Smith is really looking forward to playing against his former team and will be given the entire week to prove that he’s healthy enough to play.
This article originally appeared on Packers News: Green Bay Packers: Whitney Mercilus set to boost pass rush