Whitney Mercilus

Packers Activate Za’Darius Smith, Whitney Mercilus From IR

The Packers’ collective return to full strength, or close to it, continues. They activated outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Whitney Mercilus from IR on Friday, putting each in position to return Saturday night.

This will be an interesting co-return effort, given that the Pack added Mercilus to fill the void Smith’s back surgery created. With each now on the 53-man roster, both are expected to be in uniform against the 49ers in the divisional round.

While the Packers have seen David Bakhtiari, Jaire Alexander and Randall Cobb steadily return from IR, Smith marked the last of the team’s injured stalwarts to resurface. But shortly after the regular season ended, the Pro Bowl edge rusher re-emerged on the radar for a postseason return. Smith has only played 18 snaps this season, aggravating his back injury in Week 1 and undergoing surgery.

A big-ticket offseason addition in 2019, Smith served as Green Bay’s top pass rusher from 2019-20. He combined for 26 sacks and two Pro Bowls in those seasons, proving his 2018 contract year in Baltimore was no fluke. It is uncertain if the 29-year-old defender will be with the Packers beyond these playoffs, given a monster 2022 cap number and some issues with a redone contract, but he will rejoin Preston Smith and Rashan Gary to give Green Bay a high-profile two-deep depth chart at this position.

Za’Darius Smith and Mercilus have yet to suit up for a game together. The Packers signed the latter in October, doing so shortly after the Texans cut him. Mercilus has not played since Week 10 and was believed to be out for the season with a biceps tear. However, the longtime Texans edge returned to Packers practice last week. Mercilus registered four sacks this season, three of those coming with Houston, but profiles as an interesting off-the-bench option for the NFC’s top seed. The 10th-year defender has fared well in the playoffs, accumulating seven postseason sacks during his career.

Whitney Mercilus Designated For Return

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.

Packers’ Whitney Mercilus Done For Season

Whitney Mercilus signed with the Packers less than a month ago, but the pass rusher is now done for the season. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports (via Twitter) that the veteran linebacker suffered a season-ending biceps tear.

The veteran was signed to help fill in for Za’Darius Smith, who remains sidelined with a back injury. Mercilus ended up seeing time in three games with his new squad, collecting five tackles and one sack. Before suffering the injury yesterday against the Seahawks, Mercilus had appeared in at least 40 percent of Green Bay’s defensive snaps through his first three games with the organization.

Mercilus was cut by the Texans back in October after seeing his role reduced on defense. The 31-year-old still put up solid numbers despite the part-time role in Houston, compiling 12 tackles, three sacks, four tackles for loss, and three QB hits. The defender had spent his entire nine-plus-year career in Houston, starting 102 of his 132 games. He ranks second in franchise history (behind J.J. Watt) in a number of statistics, including sacks (57), forced fumbles (13), tackles for loss (72), and QB hits (115).

Chiefs, Steelers Pursued Whitney Mercilus

In adding Whitney Mercilus, the Packers scooped up another longtime Texas-stationed linebacker this month. Mercilus will join Jaylon Smith in Green Bay. As in Smith’s case, other suitors were in the mix.

Both the Chiefs and Steelers attempted to sign the former Texans edge rusher, according to Sports Talk 790’s Aaron Wilson and ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler (Twitter links). Mercilus considered both teams, per Wilson, but opted to sign with the Packers.

Green Bay, which is set to be without top sack artist Za’Darius Smith until at least late in the season, won a recruiting battle of sorts, with Houston still on the hook for Mercilus’ 2021 base salary. This was also the case in the Smith sweepstakes, which included Carolina and Washington making pushes. Mercilus, 31, joins Preston Smith and Rashan Gary among the Packers’ outside linebackers.

The Chiefs have been without their top two defensive linemen at various points this season. Chris Jones has missed the past two games with a wrist injury, while Frank Clark missed time earlier this season due to a hamstring injury. Clark also is facing NFL punishment at some point after being arrested on gun charges twice this offseason. Kansas City’s defense has struggled this season, recording an NFL-worst seven sacks through six games.

Mercilus would have strengthened a deep Steelers edge-rushing corps. Pittsburgh houses All-Pro T.J. Watt and second-year rusher Alex Highsmith, and the team added Melvin Ingram late this offseason. Watt and Highsmith missed time due to groin injuries this year, while Ingram was down much of last season due to injury. Pittsburgh, which has led the league in sacks in each of the past four seasons, has seen Ingram play every game this season.

A 10th-year pro, Mercilus has registered three sacks this season, doing so despite playing only 52% of the rebuilding Texans’ defensive snaps. He now has 57 sacks over the course of his career.

Packers To Sign Whitney Mercilus

The Packers are set to sign edge rusher Whitney Mercilus, according to Aaron Wilson of SportsTalk790 (on Twitter). The deal is not yet official but it’s expected to be finalized sometime this week. 

The Texans cut on Monday after weeks of using the veteran in a noticeably reduced role. Despite the drop in snaps, the 31-year-old still put up solid numbers — 12 tackles, three sacks, four tackles for loss, and three QB hits. The Texans chose to roll with Jon Greenard and Jacob Martin at defensive end instead, leading Mercilus to his new NFL home.

Up until now, Mercilus had spent his entire nine-plus-year career in Houston. He’s started in 102 of his 132 games for Houston while ranking second in franchise history — behind J.J. Watt — in sacks (57), forced fumbles (13), tackles for loss (72), and QB hits (115).

Mercilus will help fill in for Za’Darius Smith, who remains sidelined with a back injury. Meanwhile, he’ll have a chance to move back to his native outside linebacker position, rather than DE.

Texans To Release DE Whitney Mercilus

s the Texans continue to pivot toward a youth movement, the team is letting go of one of their longest-tenured player. Houston is releasing veteran defensive end Whitney Mercilus, reports Aaron Wilson (via Twitter).

Mercilus has seen a reduced role in recent weeks, but the 31-year-old has still put up solid numbers despite the part-time role, compiling 12 tackles, three sacks, four tackles for loss, and three QB hits. The Texans have recently pivoted to Jon Greenard and Jacob Martin at defensive end, sending Mercilus to a backup role.

The defensive end had spent his entire nine-plus-year career in Houston, starting 102 of his 132 games. He ranks second in franchise history (behind J.J. Watt) in a number of statistics, including sacks (57), forced fumbles (13), tackles for loss (72), and QB hits (115).

Mercilus inked a four-year extension with the Texans in 2019, but thanks to an offseason restructuring, he was set to hit free agent following the 2021 campaign. He’ll now hit free agency a bit earlier than that, but it probably won’t take long before the veteran finds his next gig.

Texans Re-Work Whitney Mercilus’s Deal

Whitney Mercilus inked a four-year extension with the Texans in 2019. Now, he’s set to be a free agent after the 2021 season, thanks to a restructuring of his contract (Twitter link via Mike Garafolo of NFL.com).

Some believed that he’d be shipped out following the trade of inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney to the Dolphins, but the two sides managed to work things out. In terms of income, it’s a simple restructure for Mercilus as his base salary will be turned into a lump-sum bonus. The biggest change is that his 2022 and 2033 seasons are now voidable, making him eligible for free agency after this season. Meanwhile, the Texans will have an extra $4MM to work with in 2021.

Mercilus, a 2012 first-round pick, has spent his entire career with the Texans. Last year, he finished out with four sacks and 21 total tackles in 13 games. That marked a drop from 2019, when he had 7.5 sacks and 48 stops.

Patriots Trade OT Marcus Cannon To Texans

New Texans GM Nick Caserio is bringing in a familiar face. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Houston will acquire OT Marcus Cannon from the Patriots, and Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports that the two clubs will exchange draft positions in the 2021 fourth round, fifth round, and sixth round (Twitter links).

After the Pats traded for Trent Brown last week, speculation concerning Cannon’s roster spot began to pick up. Many assumed that New England would let him go in order to create $6.3MM of cap space, but the club managed to get its cap relief while also upgrading its picks in the middle rounds of next month’s draft.

As Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets, Cannon will likely be shifted to guard in Houston, as the Texans are set at right tackle with Tytus Howard. Cannon is owed $4.7MM in each of the next two seasons, so his salary isn’t prohibitive for a guard, and he did play on the interior earlier in his career.

Cannon opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, and as Mike Reiss of ESPN.com writes, the soon-to-be 33-year-old had yet to return to New England for a physical examination/workout. Obviously, the Texans are not overly concerned about Cannon’s health at this point, and though their new acquisition showed signs of decline in 2018-19, a move back to guard could help his performance.

This is the second trade the Texans have swung today, following this morning’s deal that will send inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney to Miami in exchange for edge defender Shaq Lawson. And according to Dianna Russini of ESPN.com (via Twitter), LB Whitney Mercilus might also be on his way out of Houston.

Minor NFL Transactions: 1/13/21

Today’s minor transactions:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

  • Activated off reserve/COVID-19 list: C Alex Mack

Cleveland Browns

Houston Texans