Whitney Mercilus

Minor NFL Transactions: 10/11/17

Today’s minor moves:

Chicago Bears

Dallas Cowboys

Houston Texans

Texans LB Whitney Mercilus Done For Season

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.Whitney Mercilus (Vertical)

[RELATED: J.J. Watt Out For Year]

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents

It’s free agency week! This year, thanks to the salary cap increase, the dollars will be flying and players will make more than you ever could have expected. Our lists for offense and defense rank free agents based on overall ability, but our Top 50 ranks players based on earning power. Here, you’ll get a good sense of what the market will be like this week and who the big fish are.

The league’s “legal tampering” window will open on Tuesday at 11:00am CT. Technically, teams and players aren’t permitted to finalize agreements on contracts during that legal tampering window, but that’s often treated as a guideline rather than a hard and fast rule. We will almost certainly see handshake agreements go down on Tuesday and Wednesday before they become official on Thursday, the technical beginning of free agency.

Our list of 2017’s top 50 free agents doesn’t include restricted free agents, or franchise tagged players, since they’re effectively restricted free agents as well.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive right in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2017, along with a few predictions on how much they might earn and what teams could be in the mix to sign them:

1. A.J. Bouye, CB (Texans): Bouye is an overnight sensation, going from unknown to elite talent in the blink of an eye. No one knows exactly what to make of Bouye, but his upside is too much for teams to pass up. The Texans declined to use the franchise tag on the 25-year-old (26 in August), but they’re still hoping to get a deal done this week. The Jets are said to have interest, but it’s not clear if they’ll have the room to get something done. Cornerback-needy teams like the Panthers, Saints, Jaguars, Titans, Bears, and Eagles can be expected to at least kick the tires on this year’s top player in the secondary. Could something like Janoris Jenkins‘ five year, $62.5MM contract ($28.8MM fully guaranteed) from last year be within reach? Jenkins had a longer history of success than Bouye, but consider these facts: Bouye nearly two years younger than Jenkins was at time of signing and the salary cap has risen by about $12MM.
Signed with Jaguars for five years, $67.5MM.A.J. Bouye (vertical)

2. Alshon Jeffery, WR (Bears): He was hurt for most of 2015 and he slumped along with the entire Bears offense in 2016, but his natural ability is still evident and he is a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver. At one point, it seemed like Jeffery could wind up as the league’s highest-paid wide receiver. That won’t be the case, but he will likely get more cash than any other wide receiver in this year’s class. The Eagles and Titans have been hot on his tail for some time now. The 49ers could also get involved and a return to the Bears cannot be ruled out either. Ultimately, Jeffery should wind up fetching at least $10MM per year and perhaps as much as $12MM per year on his next deal.
Signed with Eagles for one year, $9.5MM.

3. Kenny Stills, WR (Dolphins): Jeffery isn’t the only wide receiver who could fetch $12MM per year. Stills isn’t necessarily the best wide receiver on his own team, but he is just on the cusp of his 25th birthday and his ability to stretch the field is tantalizing. It doesn’t sound like the Dolphins are ready to be the highest bidder for his services and it’s not hard to imagine a team like the Eagles landing him. Naturally, there’s quite a bit of overlap between the potential suitors for Jeffery and Stills: the Eagles, Titans, Bears, and 49ers will probably come calling. The Rams may not have enough room to squeeze in Stills, but they could certainly use a playmaker like him if they do not re-sign Kenny Britt. Stills reportedly likes the West Coast (who doesn’t?) so the Niners and Rams could have a leg up on the others if the bidding is close.
Re-signed with Dolphins for four years, $32MM.

4. Dont’a Hightower, LB (Patriots): The market is capped for non-rush linebackers, but Hightower is pretty much the best at what he does and is also lauded for his intangibles. The Patriots have always embraced the “next man up” philosophy, so it is possible they will allow him to go elsewhere. The Dolphins have been frequently connected to Hightower, but that might be too ambitious for a team that has multiple major needs to address. The Colts might also make sense, but the price might be too rich for their blood. A Patriots return appears to be the most likely outcome, but anything is possible.
Re-signed with Patriots for four years, $35.5MM. 

5. Kevin Zeitler, G (Bengals): Zeitler has age on his side and he’s one of the safest free agents in the top ten after three consecutive years of dominance. Interior offensive linemen don’t get as much love as their counterparts on the outside, but they are still incredibly vital and Zeitler’s next contract will reflect that. If he doesn’t circle back to the Bengals, the Jaguars, Cardinals, Packers, and Seahawks all make varying degrees of sense for Zeitler. From a football standpoint, you can add the Jets to that group too, but I’m not sure they can meet a ~$12MM/year asking price.
Signed with Browns for five years, $60MM.

6. Logan Ryan, CB (Patriots): There are bigger names available at the cornerback position, but Ryan slots ahead of many of them after a career year. It also doesn’t hurt that this fresh-faced Super Bowl champ only just turned 26 in February. If the Patriots don’t tie him down, Ryan’s earning power could conceivably vault him past Trumaine Johnson in terms of guaranteed cash. The Jaguars and Titans would be wise to zero in on Ryan if they can’t land Bouye and it’s possible that some of their evaluators might even prefer Ryan over the Houston standout. Ryan’s next deal will probably pay him eight figures per year and it should be a lengthy pact.
Signed with Titans for three years, $30MM.

7. Terrelle Pryor, WR (Browns): There is strong mutual interest in a new deal between Pryor and the Browns. Still, the Browns passed on the opportunity to franchise tag the Ohio State product and he now appears poised to test the open market. With pretty much just one year to show, how will Pryor fare in free agency? His next deal should pay him at least $10MM/year and he could get up to $12MM/year. In addition to the Browns, the usual suspects for this year’s high-end WRs will explore signing Pryor (say it with me): Eagles, Titans, and 49ers. There’s conflicting word about whether the Steelers will get involved. The Giants are known to have interest, but I don’t think they’ll be splurging on free agents like they did one year ago.
Signed with Redskins for one year, $6MM.

8 .Ricky Wagner, OT (Ravens): There’s already talk of Wagner fetching around $10MM/year and it’s not like this year’s free agent market is flush with young, quality tackles. When you also consider the lack of quality tackles in the draft, it’s apparent that Wagner is about to get PAID, in all caps.Believe it or not, $10MM/year might be his floor. When all is said and done, he’ll be the league’s biggest earner at right tackle. The Bears are particularly interested in Wagner, so he could go from the AFC North to the NFC North this week.
Signed with Lions for five years, $47.5MM.

Calais Campbell (vertical)9. Calais Campbell, DL (Cardinals): Campbell was supposed to be an afterthought in Arizona after the addition of Chandler Jones. Perhaps motivated by a perceived slight, Campbell turned in a stellar year. Now, the Cardinals would very much like to keep him, but they can only go so far as they back up the Brinks truck for Jones and look into retaining other key free agents. If Jones does not agree to a cap-smoothing long-term deal between now and March 9th, the odds of Campbell leaving increase. The Jaguars are said to be a leading contender for Campbell while the Titans, Broncos, Colts, and Bears could also use a force like him. His age (31 in September) gives him a bit of a ceiling in terms of overall compensation, but he should still do nicely this month.
Signed with Jaguars for four years, $60MM.

10. Stephon Gilmore, CB (Bills): In terms of pure talent, Gilmore might be the best cornerback available. Trouble is, no one knows what to make of him after a down 2016. Some have openly theorized that Gilmore was playing it safe to avoid injury in his pivotal contract year. It’s also possible that Buffalo’s injuries in the front seven put undue stress on the secondary. The Bears are reportedly high on Gilmore and he may represent a cheaper option than Bouye or Ryan. A Bills return would also make sense here.
Signed with Patriots for five years, $65MM.

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PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2017 1.0

[UPDATE: CLICK HERE FOR THE LATEST EDITION OF PFR’S TOP 50 FREE AGENTS]

There will be oodles of free agents available in March, but only a certain percentage of them can be real difference makers for your team. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve assembled our early list of the Top 50 Free Agents for 2017.

Our early version of the NFL’s top 50 free agents may include players who will be re-signed between now and March 9. When we update this list next week, a few of the big names will be spoken for while new high-profile names will join the fray as veterans become cap casualties.

Last month, we broke down the top free agents by position on both offense and defense, but our rankings below may not have each player listed in the same order. Those position lists took the short-term value of a player into account more heavily, meaning many players in their 30s received prominent placement. Our overall top 50 list favors longer-term value, and is more about forecasting which players will be in highest demand when it comes to years and dollars.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2017:

  1. A.J. BouyeA.J. Bouye, CB (Texans): Out of nowhere, Bouye went from unknown to elite. The Texans would like to retain him, but they opted against using the franchise tag to get it done. That means that we’re about to see one of the most intriguing free agent cases in recent memory play out. Bouye doesn’t turn 26 until August and he finished out the year as one of the league’s best cornerbacks. Conversely, he didn’t do much of note in his previous three NFL seasons. Recently, one executive told Albert Breer of The MMQB that he’s expecting Bouye to be the highest-paid free agent in this year’s class, “assuming the guys we believe will be franchised actually are.” Another posited that he could match Janoris Jenkins‘ five year, $62.5MM contract from last spring, a deal that included $28.8MM fully guaranteed. The Jets could be among the clubs to pursue Bouye.
  2. Alshon Jeffery, WR (Bears): There are question marks a-plenty, but no one can deny Jeffery’s natural ability. Not long ago, it seemed like Jeffery would fetch a free agent deal to totally reset the wide receiver market. Even after an iffy season, the projected salary cap increase and lack of available star receivers should allow Jeffery to become a very rich man.
  3. Kenny Stills, WR (Dolphins): Stills is going to get paid this offseason and the average annual value on his next deal could be far, far more than anticipated. The latest reports indicate that he could make up to $12MM/year on his next deal. The Eagles are said to be high on him and other WR-hungry teams like the Titans could also show interest.
  4. Dont’a Hightower, LB (Patriots): The market is capped for non-rush linebackers, but Hightower is pretty much the best at what he does and is also lauded for his intangibles. The Patriots have always embraced the “next man up” philosophy, so it is possible they will allow him to go elsewhere.
  5. Kevin Zeitler, G (Bengals): Zeitler has age on his side and he’s one of the safest free agents in the top ten after three consecutive years of dominance. Interior offensive linemen don’t get as much love as their counterparts on the outside, but they are still incredibly vital and Zeitler’s next contract will reflect that.
  6. Calais Campbell, DL (Cardinals): Campbell was supposed to be a goner in Arizona. However, instead of staying in Chandler Jones‘ shadow, Campbell turned in one of his best seasons to date. Now, the Cardinals would very much like to keep him, but they can only go so far as they back up the Brinks truck for Jones. If Jones does not agree to a cap-smoothing long-term deal between now and March 9th, the odds of the former University of Miami star leaving increase.
  7. T.J. Lang, G (Packers): In 2016, Lang earned a strong 87.0 overall grade from Pro Football Focus (8th amongst guards), including a 92.9 score for pass blocking (2nd). Lang, who turns 30 in September, also spent some time at tackle early in his career and could be moved around the line in a pinch.
  8. Tony Jefferson, S (Cardinals): The metrics at PFF actually placed Jefferson slightly ahead of Eric Berry in 2016. He’s also a full three years younger than the KC star. The Cardinals want to keep Jefferson, but he will test the open market no matter what.
  9. Terrelle PryorTerrelle Pryor, WR (Browns): Pryor and the Browns haven’t exactly played it coy about their intentions. Both sides badly want to get a long-term deal done and we’d be surprised if that didn’t come to fruition. The franchise tag was too expensive here, so Pryor will garner considerable attention as a young WR2 type if a multi-year pact is not struck in the coming days.
  10. Logan Ryan, CB (Patriots): There are bigger names available at the cornerback position, but Ryan slots ahead of many of them after a career year. It also doesn’t hurt that this fresh-faced Super Bowl champ only just turned 26 in February. If the Patriots don’t tie him down, Ryan’s earning power could conceivably vault him past Trumaine Johnson in terms of guaranteed cash.
  11. Ricky Wagner, OT (Ravens): Wagner could reportedly fetch around $10MM/year. The free agent market is short on young, quality tackles and this year’s draft is no great shakes.
  12. Duron Harmon, S (Patriots): Surprised to see Harmon so close to fellow safety Tony Jefferson on this list? Don’t be. Free safety is where the money is at and Harmon figures to get make more than any of us anticipated six months ago. Like Ryan, Harmon is also just 26.
  13. Martellus Bennett, TE (Patriots): Rob Gronkowski‘s injury woes were unfortunate, but the Patriots barely missed a beat thanks to Bennett. Recently, Bennett gloated about Super Bowl winners getting overpaid and he’s not wrong – the shine of a championship ring tends to illuminate free agents. Still, Bennett shouldn’t sell himself short: he’s a big, bruising tight end who can be a major factor in the red zone, as evidenced by his seven touchdowns last season.
  14. Stephon Gilmore, CB (Bills): In terms of pure talent, Gilmore might be the best cornerback available. Trouble is, no one knows what to make of him after a down 2016. Some have openly theorized that Gilmore was playing it safe to avoid injury in his pivotal contract year. It’s also possible that Buffalo’s injuries in the front seven put undue stress on the secondary. GMs will use these justifications and more to convince ownership to pony up big dollars.
  15. Brandon Williams, DT (Ravens): The Ravens are prioritizing a new deal for Williams this offseason, but if they don’t re-sign him, the Dolphins could be among the teams in pursuit. Williams doesn’t fill up a stat sheet, but he is an effective run-stuffer with age on his side. At 28, teams won’t be hesitant about making a multi-year commitment.
  16. Dontari Poe, DT (Chiefs): Poe is a bit inconsistent, but when he’s on it’s a clear reminder of why the Chiefs made him the No. 11 overall pick in the 2012 draft. The Memphis product boasts two Pro Bowl selections and his athleticism may allow him to occasionally play a bit on the outside.
  17. Nick Perry, DE (Packers): After this year’s premier edge defenders were franchised, Perry stands as the best defensive end available. In just 14 games (12 starts), the former first-round pick amassed 11 sacks. Teams employing a 3-4 scheme will be especially interested in his services.
  18. Kenny Britt, WR (Rams): Britt managed to turn in his first career 1,000+ yard season despite playing in the NFL’s worst offense. He could match or even best Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson when it comes to average annual value and his age could lead to a longer deal. The Giants could bring the Rutgers product back to New Jersey to fill Victor Cruz‘s spot and take attention away from Odell Beckham Jr., but we’re expecting them to put their resources in other areas. Kenny Britt
  19. Mike Glennon, QB (Buccaneers): I’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that players are ranked here based on projected earnings, not ability. As of this writing, Glennon is the second-best QB in this year’s free agent class (and, remember, Kirk Cousins could be inked to a long-term deal or given the exclusive tag). When we revisit this list next month, Glennon’s placement among QBs may be challenged by Tyrod Taylor and others.
  20. Johnathan Hankins, DT (Giants): Hankins has youth on his side as he won’t turn 25 until late March. He also played a hand in the Giants’ strong run defense last year – as a team, they allowed just 88.6 yards on the ground per game.
  21. Larry Warford, G (Lions): The knock on Warford when he was coming out of Kentucky was that he might not be able to make it at the next level due to his lack of agility and athleticism. Today, he’s not the quickest guard in the NFL, but he’s unquestionably starting caliber. Warford has never missed more than three games in one NFL season and he’s just entering his age-26 season.
  22. Kevin Minter, LB (Cardinals): The Cardinals have lots of free agents to address this offseason and that could lead to the 26-year-old Minter going elsewhere. Last year, he racked up 81 total tackles and 3.5 sacks in 16 games.
  23. Andrew Whitworth, OT (Bengals): Whitworth is a stud, but his earning power is capped by his age (he’ll celebrate his 36th birthday in December). Last year, PFF rated him as the second-best tackle in the entire NFL and he’s been a Top 5/Top 10 guy for the last five years in a row. It should also be noted that he has been remarkably durable throughout his career, missing only two games since 2009.
  24. Pierre Garcon, WR (Redskins): Garcon is a solid possession receiver, a label that he personally rejects. We understand where he’s coming from. This year, the Redskins had the veteran running deeper routes than he has in the past and he showed that he could stretch the field a bit, even though he wasn’t the fastest guy on the WR depth chart. He didn’t approach his gaudy 2013 numbers, but he still turned in a respectable stat line of 79 catches for 1,041 yards. His 69.1% catch rate was a career-high.
  25. Zach Brown, LB (Bills): Finally, Brown lived up to his second-round draft status in 2016. After settling for a cheap one-year deal last year, Brown should do a lot better this time around.
  26. Chris Baker, DT (Redskins): Baker is well-rounded and can be used on both the interior and outside of the defensive line. The Redskins have been leaning on him more each year and he has thrived with the increased responsibilities.
  27. Prince Amukamara, CB (Jaguars): After being slowed by injuries in New York, Amukamara managed to stay on the field for most of the season in Jacksonville. He probably won’t blossom into a shutdown corner this late in the game, but the former first-round pick would make a fine CB2 somewhere.
  28. DeSean Jackson, WR (Redskins): Jackson is on the wrong side of 30 and, typically, blazing speed does not age well. Still, he’s one of the game’s best deep threats and we can’t help but think that the Eagles will overspend to bring this fan favorite home.
  29. Jabaal Sheard, DL (Patriots): Sheard saw his playing time reduced in the middle of the season and was even a healthy scratch for one game in November. Despite that bump in the road, the 27-year-old (28 in May) still managed to finish out the year with five sacks and 33 total tackles. Teams may have some questions about Sheard’s effort and/or conditioning after he wound up in Belichick’s doghouse. His stock could be affected if the Patriots don’t make a genuine effort to re-sign him.
  30. Jonathan Cyprien, S (Jaguars): Jacksonville fans are often frustrated with Cyprien, but he’s coming off of a career year and he appears to have put many of his bad habits behind him. He finished out 2016 with 126 total tackles, one sack, and four pass deflections. PFF’s 87.8 overall grade was the best of his career and placed him No. 7 among safeties, just ahead of Eric Berry.
  31. Ronald Leary, G (Cowboys): Leary has no interest in a reserve role and he’ll get the full-time starting job he craves this spring.
  32. Adrian Peterson Raiders (vertical)Adrian Peterson, RB (Vikings): As expected, the Vikings will decline Peterson’s hefty option for the 2017 season. A return to Minnesota is still possible and contenders like the Giants and Raiders will also be making a strong push to add AD to their backfield. Still, given his injury history, it’s hard to see Peterson getting a lucrative multi-year deal on the cusp of his 32nd birthday, hence his ranking this far down on the list. We have him as our top running back in the Top 50 because he should still score a fat one-year contract.
  33. Barry Church, S (Cowboys): Church isn’t a megastar, but he is a well-rounded strong safety who should draw plenty of interest. Berry re-signing with the Chiefs should cause a domino effect that enhances his market.
  34. J.C. Tretter, C (Packers): In an admittedly small sample last year, PFF rated Tretter as the ninth-best center in the NFL last season. Despite playing in only six games before his season-ending injury, Tretter should outearn every other center thanks in large part to his youth. The former fourth-round pick just recently turned 26.
  35. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (Bengals): We’re still waiting for Kirkpatrick to live up to his first-round billing.
  36. Eddie Lacy, RB (Packers): Lacy’s weight issues are well documented but when he’s on, he’s on. Before his unfortunate injury this past fall, Lacy was averaging 5.07 yards per carry.
  37. Riley Reiff, OT (Lions): Personally, I prefer Russell Okung and Kelvin Beachum to Reiff, but I anticipate Reiff getting more money than both. He’s younger than Okung and coming off of a much better year than Beachum.
  38. John Simon, LB/DE (Texans): J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus get the attention in Houston, but Simon is a quality edge rusher in his own right. This spring, the 26-year-old could go from supersub to starter with a significant pay bump.
  39. T.J. McDonald, S (Rams): I’m not as high on him as others, but he’s young and can knock receivers into next week.
  40. Morris Claiborne, CB (Cowboys): After multiple disappointing seasons, Claiborne broke out in his contract year. Then, his campaign ended after seven games. Will teams take the glass-half-full view of the former No. 6 overall pick? We believe they will, but there’s also a good crop of defensive backs in this year’s draft.
  41. Micah Hyde, S (Packers): Hyde, who just turned 26 in December, offers versatility and can be slotted anywhere in the secondary. In that respect, you might be thinking that he’s Darius Butler-lite. Many will prefer Butler as a player for the here and now, but Hyde could get more years and dollars thanks to the age gap.
  42. Latavius Murray, RB (Raiders): He’s not the most explosive runner out there, but he’s a quality option for teams in need. Here’s an interesting scenario based on what we’ve been hearing: Murray could land with the Vikings while Peterson joins up with Oakland.
  43. Russell Okung, OT (Broncos): Last year, Okung went into free agency without an agent. That decision bit him in the behind after he turned in a so-so year and the Broncos turned down his pricey multi-year option. This time around, I hope he doesn’t cheap out and hires proper representation. Regardless, his market will be a lot softer than it was in 2016.
  44. Jamaal Charles, RB (Chiefs): After releasing Charles, the Chiefs issued a press release thanking the “future Hall of Famer.” Charles could very well be Canton-bound someday, but the jury is still out on what he can do in 2017. In the last two years, Charles has appeared in just eight games.
  45. Kayvon Webster, CB (Broncos): Webster has been vocal about his desire for more playing time and he’s not going to get it in Denver where he is blocked behind proven corners. Webster will go elsewhere and I see him getting a solid payday based on his age (just turned 26), athleticism, and special teams ability.
  46. Perry Riley, LB (Raiders): After he was a cap casualty of the Redskins last year, Riley quietly had a bounce-back year in Oakland.
  47. Bennie Logan, DT (Eagles): The rival Redskins are apparently among the teams with interest in Logan.
  48. Darius Butler, DB (Colts): His ability to play multiple positions will work in his favor.
  49. Ryan Clady, OT (Jets): Lots of injury concerns, but also lots of potential.
  50. Terrance Williams, WR (Cowboys): Markus Wheaton, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Michael Floyd may offer more upside, but Williams could edge them in earnings. We’ll find out soon.

Honorable mention (in no particular order): LeGarrette Blount, Nick Mangold, Colin Kaepernick, Nick Fairley, D.J. Swearinger, Bradley McDougald, DeMarcus Ware, Stefen Wisniewski, Lawrence Timmons, Captain Munnerlyn, Jairus Byrd, Darrelle Revis, Jared Odrick, Alterraun VernerKelvin Beachum, Lorenzo Alexander, Brandon CarrCharles Johnson

Texans, Whitney Mercilus Agree To Extension

5:48pm: The deal includes $10.8MM in guaranteed money with a $5.25MM signing bonus, McClain tweets.

5;36pm: The Texans and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus have agreed to a four-year extension, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle (on Twitter). Mercilus was eligible for a fifth-year option this year and it’s now apparent that Houston declined the option in order to work out a longer pact.

It’s a four-year, $26MM deal, according to Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com (via Twitter). The deal will keep the linebacker in a Texans jersey through the 2019 season. Mercilus, 25 in July, has played in all but one of the Texans’ regular season games across the last three seasons. Playing primarily as a starter for the last two, Mercilus has racked up a combined 12 sacks, 97 tackles, and two forced fumbles.

The Texans obviously are happy with Mercilus, but the advanced metrics aren’t so wild about him. In 2014, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked him as just the 35th best outside linebacker in a 3-4 set out of 46 qualified players. In 2013, his overall rating of -18.1 put him dead last (42nd out of 42) amongst 3-4 OLBs.

As Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle (on Twitter) notes, the Texans have also locked up former draft picks Kareem Jackson and Derek Newton this offseason.

AFC Notes: Bengals, Rivers, Mercilus, Browns

Multiple reports and mock drafts in recent weeks have suggested the Bengals could use their first-round pick to add a young tackle, perhaps envisioning that player as an eventual replacement for Andrew Whitworth. As he tells Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer though, the idea of the team adding his potential replacement doesn’t worry Whitworth.

I’ve always had the opposite mentality,” Whitworth said. “Mess up and draft somebody at my position because you are going to sit around and watch him sit the bench. That’s always been my mentality. I see it as a challenge.”

While we wait to see which direction the Bengals decide to go on Thursday, let’s check out a few more notes from around the AFC….

  • The Chargers met with Philip Rivers‘ agent in person last week and are still focused on extending the quarterback’s contract, tweets Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports. If Rivers is still a Charger on Sunday, it should signal that the team is relatively confident it can get something done.
  • Speaking today to reporters, including John McClain of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter links), Texans general manager Rick Smith said he and the club are still deciding whether to pick up the fifth-year option on Whitney Mercilus. “Whether we pick it up or not, we want him around long time,” Smith said of the outside linebacker. For his part, McClain doesn’t expect the team to exercise its 2016 option.
  • On the heels of ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reporting that Sam Bradford wants to play for the Eagles, and Philadelphia is unlikely to trade him, Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com says the Browns would still like to acquire the former first overall pick — however, it’s not likely to happen.
  • Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com ranks the Raiders‘ top five draft needs, and according to Bair, the No. 1 priority is finding a pass rusher that can take some of the heat off of Khalil Mack. Oakland could use a defensive end and they could very well use the No. 4 pick to shore up that spot. Bud Dupree, Leonard Williams, and Dante Fowler Jr. are candidates to end up in Oakland next season, Bair writes.
  • Chiefs president Mark Donovan has signed a long-term contract extension to remain in Kansas City, the team announced today in a press release.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Jadeveon Clowney To Miss 4-6 Weeks

Texans’ defensive end Jadeveon Clowney exited the game during the team’s 17-6 victory over the Redskins. The first overall pick injured his knee during his NFL debut.

Albert Breer of NFL Network was first to report that the injury sustained was to Clowney’s MCL (via Twitter). The injury could sideline the pass rusher for between four and six weeks, reports Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (via Twitter).

While more will be known after an MRI tomorrow, according to Ed Werder of ESPN (via Twitter), Werder’s colleague Adam Schefter reports that the team fears that Clowney has suffered a meniscus tear that will require arthroscopic surgery (via Twitter).

Ian Rapoport of NFL.com confirms that the injury is indeed a torn meniscus, and reports that Clowney will have surgery on Monday (via Twitter).

Clowney had a tackle in the backfield in his first NFL game, but failed to make it to halftime healthy. Fortunately for the Texans, they have 2012 first-round pick Whitney Mercilus to replace Clowney in the starting lineup. Mercilus had six sacks as a rookie in 2012, and seven sacks last season during his sophomore campaign.

Extra Points: Burnett, Long, Adams

ESPN’s staff put together a list of each team’s starter whose job is in jeopardy. Among the most notable are 49ers running back Frank Gore, Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and Packers safety Morgan Burnett. On Burnett, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky says, “When the Packers drafted Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round, the thinking was that he would start alongside Burnett. Now, there’s a chance he could start instead of Burnett. Coach Mike McCarthy likes what Micah Hyde has done at free safety, and when Burnett strained his oblique muscle this week, he put Clinton-Dix in Burnett’s strong safety spot. The Packers made a major investment in Burnett last summer with an $8.25 million signing bonus as part of a four-year extension, but he followed it with an unproductive season.”

Here’s a few miscellaneous links from around the league:

  • Panthers veteran linebacker Chase Blackburn is on that list, as second-year man A.J. Klein is pushing for the starting job, but Blackburn is embracing his role as mentor, writes Scott Fowler in the Charlotte Observer.
  • With the Eagles in Chicago to play the Bears tonight, Zach Berman of Philadelphia Inquirer writes about the relationship between Bears offensive lineman Kyle Long and Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, who helped Long get his career back on track during their time together at Oregon.
  • The Steelers were hoping 2012 second-rounder Mike Adams would challenge for a starting tackle job, but that’s not happening, writes ESPN’s Scott Brown. Adams has been inconsistent, and “It would be charitable to put Adams among the Steelers’ best seven offensive linemen through the first 11 practices,” according to Brown. Adams started 10-of-15 games played last season, but struggled and “earned” a -4.9 overall rating from Pro Football Focus.
  • Cowboys rookie safety Ahmad Dixon’s ‘Welcome to the NFL’ hit left him with a concussion, reports Drew Davison of the Star-Telegram.
  • The Seahawks’ secondary has established itself as the “Legion of Boom.” The Buccaneers are trying to establish the offensive equivalent, with the trio of Vincent Jackson, first-rounder Mike Evans and second-rounder Austin Seferian-Jenkins going by the “Three Dunkateers,” writes USA Today’s Jim Corbett.

Jeffery Buoying Emery’s First Draft

Bears GM Phil Emery has been on the job two and a half years, and with a series of bold moves, has positioned the Bears as a legitimate Super Bowl contender entering the 2014 season. That’s noteworthy status given the fact Emery’s first draft class (2012) has been fruitless with the exception of rising star Alshon Jeffery.

Buried in an article about the Bears’ kick coverage units, CSN Chicago’s John Mullin notes that 2012 19th overall selection Shea McClellin, a disappointment through two NFL seasons, has been used on special teams this offseason. Unable to hold up against the run, the Bears have converted him from defensive end to linebacker, where he’s competing with John Bostic for the starting job on the strong side. Position changes and special-teams impact are things typically associated with rookies, not third-year pros, especially ones drafted as highly as McClellin. His backward career trajectory doesn’t bode well for his future in Chicago.

If McClellin can’t find a way to make an impact this season, he’ll be stamped with the bust label, which prompts a more macroscopic concern. Emery, whose background is rooted in scouting, was hired to replace Jerry Angelo, whose first-round failures still resonate with Bears fans who cringe at the memories of names such as Rex Grossman, Michael Haynes, Cedric Benson, Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi. Emery is supposed to reverse that debilitating trend, but aside from Jeffery in the second round, his 2012 draft class has failed to live up to expectations:

  • First round: McClellin – “Earned” -30.6 overall grade from Pro Football Focus in 2013, and has just 6.5 sacks in 28 career games.
  • Second round: Jeffery – Made the Pro Bowl in his second year, a breakout season in which he totaled 89 catches for 1,421 yards and 7 touchdowns, teaming with Brandon Marshall to form one of the most dominant receiving duos in the league.
  • Third round – Brandon Hardin: Arrived an injured player and departed an injured player, never playing a game for the Bears.
  • Fourth round – Evan Rodriguez: Considered a reach because of character concerns, Rodriguez was released after his rookie season (and two off-season arrests).
  • Sixth round – Isaiah Frey: Has yet to make a significant contribution and faces a training camp battle to stick as the team’s fifth cornerback.
  • Seventh round – Greg McCoy – Cut at the end of 2012 training camp.

In McClellin’s case, the Bears might have misevaluated his utility, as many draft scouts projected the Boise State pass rusher as a 3-4 rush rush linebacker. Nolan Nawrocki’s 2012 Draft Preview graded McClellin as a mid-round talent with tweener traits, strength deficiency and an inability to defend the run: “Functional, character football player who plays better than he tests and could warrant consideration as a stand-up, upfield 3-4 rush ‘backer. Versatility and dependability increase comfort level and could drive up draft status.”

Nawrocki’s assessment proved accurate, as McClellin ascended all the way to the 19th pick, where Emery pounced on him with 3-4 teams such as the Patriots (who took Chandler Jones 21st), Texans (who took Whitney Mercilus 26th) and Packers (who took Nick Perry 28th) lurking in subsequent picks. McClellin’s versatility was key to the selection, with the thinking at the time being if he doesn’t pan out as a defensive end, he could be a starter-caliber linebacker, be it as Brian Urlacher‘s long-term replacement in the middle, or on the outside. The time is now for McClellin to reward Emery’s confidence before Chicago’s all-too-familiar first-round failure worries are stirred up.