The Texans’ Sunday night went from bad to worst, as the club not only lost superstar defensive lineman J.J. Watt, but edge rusher Whitney Mercilus. A torn pectoral will require surgery and end Mercilus’ 2017 campaign, tweets Mark Berman of FOX 28.
Houston ranked fourth in defensive DVOA and seventh in adjusted sack rate heading into Week 5, but have now seen two of their best defensive players go down in a single night. Without Watt and Mercilus available, the Texans could give more work to internal options Brennan Scarlett or Ufomba Kamalu, or potentially promote practice squad players LaTroy Lewis or Gimel President.
A free agent acquisition can’t be ruled out, as well, and there are a number of edge defenders who could make sense for the Texans. Dwight Freeney, Mario Williams, Paul Kruger, Jaye Howard, Arthur Jones, and Vance Walker are among the available players who could provide assistance on either the defensive line or at outside linebacker. Houston has auditioned linebackers such as Andrew Gachkar and Michael Mauti in recent weeks, but those veterans are more valuable on special teams than in defensive packages.
Mercilus will be difficult to replace, however, as the 27-year-old ‘backer has become an underrated asset over the past few seasons. From 2015-16, Mercilus put up 19.5 sacks for the Texans, and had managed one quarterback takedown in 2017. Pro Football Focus had graded Mercilus as just the No. 46 edge defender this season, but his marks had been significantly better in the prior two years.
Mercilus is signed through the 2019 campaign under the terms of an extension he signed in 2015. He’s due base salaries of $4.75MM and $5.75MM over the next two seasons.
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