The Packers signed Whitney Mercilus in the aftermath of Za’Darius Smith‘s back surgery, but the NFC North champions played without both for the stretch run. A possibility each is back next week now exists.
Green Bay designated Mercilus to return from IR on Thursday, starting his 21-day activation clock. This is a surprise, given Mercilus’ biceps tear occurring in mid-November. DC Joe Barry conceded as much, indicating he was not expecting a return to practice this soon.
Barry’s stance may point to Mercilus being an option ahead of the NFC championship game or Super Bowl LVI — assuming, of course, the Packers’ season extends beyond next weekend — but the conference’s No. 1 seed could look drastically different when it returns to action.
David Bakhtiari missed 16 games this season but returned for the Packers’ Week 18 tilt, while O-line mate Josh Myers played in Detroit as well after being out since Week 6. Smith and Jaire Alexander are also trending toward returning for the divisional round. Ditto Randall Cobb, who must be activated by next week to play again this season. Starting right tackle Billy Turner was also back at practice this week. Turner has not played since suffering a knee injury in Week 14, though the Packers did not place him on IR.
Mercilus coming back would give the Packers a formidable two-deep edge-rushing contingent. The longtime Texans outside linebacker would almost certainly be a rotational rusher behind the likes of Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary. Mercilus, 31, signed with the Packers after his October Texans release. Used in a part-time capacity by both his 2021 teams, Mercilus has four sacks this season. The former J.J. Watt sidekick has 58 career sacks and has also been productive in the playoffs, having registered seven sacks in eight postseason games.