GREEN BAY, Wis. — Whitney Mercilus’ football fortunes changed over the course of less than 48 hours.
In his 10th season with Houston, Mercilus was released by the one-win Texans on Tuesday. Contenders quickly called to express their interest.
Ultimately, Mercilus chose the Green Bay Packers on Wednesday and signed on Thursday. Just like that, he went from a rebuilding team to a championship contender that’s won five in a row.
“I enjoyed my time there,” Mercilus said after Thursday’s practice. “The fans embraced me ever since I got there. It was great. A lot of great players that I got to play with during my time and I’ve seen a lot of changes from (Gary) Kubiak to (Bill) O’Brien to (David) Culley.
"With that being said, I’m just grateful to be here. Been accepted with open arms, love it. The energy, it’s amazing. Honestly, it just pumps new life (into me) because I’ve only seen the same four walls for years and to see something different is pretty cool.”
While he joined the team too late to attend the morning meetings, he did practice on Thursday. Outside linebackers coach Mike Smith will give Mercilus a crash course in the scheme in hopes of giving him a role in Sunday’s game against Washington.
“This is not his first rodeo, so you guys shouldn’t be shocked if he is out there and rushing the quarterback,” Smith said.
A free agent for the first time, Mercilus said Kansas City and Pittsburgh were among the teams that were interested. After talking to contacts around the league, along with Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst, coach Matt LaFleur and former Texans receiver and now current Packers receiver Randall Cobb, Mercilus signed with the outside linebacker-needy Packers.
“As the first time going through the process, man, it was pretty cool, and I was happy that I was wanted elsewhere,” he said.
The Packers are rolling despite several key injuries. They are hoping Mercilus will not only boost their pass rush, but their championship hopes.
On Wednesday, with the news of the possible addition of Mercilus, the team’s most recent championship was on Aaron Rodgers’ mind.
“This season is beginning to remind me a little bit of a season over a decade ago, where we’ve had a number of injuries and in the course of the season added certain pieces to the mix that ended up playing a big role down the line,” Rodgers said. “I think you guys can imagine what season I’m talking about, which is a good thing.”
That was the 2010 season, when the team won the Super Bowl despite having 16 players on injured reserve. The situation isn’t as dire this season, but the Packers have been hit hard by injuries, in general, and at outside linebacker, in particular, with Pro Bowler Za’Darius Smith and backups Chauncey Rivers and Randy Ramsey on injured reserve.
The other veteran starter, Preston Smith, is dealing with an oblique injury. By the end of Sunday’s victory at Chicago, Green Bay was down to 2019 first-round pick Rashan Gary, 2020 seventh-round pick Jonathan Garvin and La’Darius Hamilton, who was signed off Tampa Bay’s practice squad last month.
Enter the 31-year-old Mercilus, a first-round pick by the Texans in 2012 who was released by the team on Tuesday.
Mercilus has 57 sacks in nine-plus season. That includes three this season, but only one season of eight-plus sacks in his career. That was 2015, when he had 12.
With Za’Darius Smith questionable to return this season following back surgery, Green Bay is tied for ninth in the NFL with 14 sacks, but only tied for 19th with 53 pressures. The hope is Mercilus can bolster the pass rush and help offset the absence of All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander, who is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury.
“Everything I’ve heard about him as a man is A-plus,” coach Matt LaFleur said of Mercilus before Thursday’s practice. “I’ve been on teams that have gone against him and he’s always been a problem to play against.”
Mercilus is the latest veteran the Packers have signed to shore up a defense dealing with multiple injuries. The Packers signed linebacker Jaylon Smith two weeks ago, one day after the Dallas Cowboys released him.
The Packers enter Week 7 with a 5-1 record. Houston, meanwhile, is 5-17 since the start of last season and wanted to give Mercilus’ snaps to some younger players.
“Guys like that, they want to come to a winning team,” Rodgers said on Wednesday. “When you go from 1-5 to 5-1, that’s a whole new outlook on life, I think. Now Jaylon, obviously, went from a good team to a good team but, for Whitney, I think that can breathe some life into a player like that, for sure.”
After Sunday’s game, Green Bay will face a series of games against top-flight offenses. That starts on a short week at Arizona on Thursday, followed by Kansas City, Seattle, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Rams before the Week 13 bye.
In terms of total offense, the Chiefs are second, the Vikings are fifth, the Cardinals are seventh and the Rams are eighth.
Perhaps the addition of Mercilus can help slow down those prolific teams.
“I’m just hoping to go out there, make some plays and be very disruptive to give this team a chance to win every single game,” Mercilus said.