GREEN BAY, Wis. – With no guarantee that Za’Darius Smith will return to the lineup, the Green Bay Packers made a big splash by adding outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus.
Speaking before Wednesday’s practice, Packers coach Matt LaFleur wouldn’t discuss Mercilus specifically because the signing is not official.
“I think you’re always looking for help,” LaFleur said. “I know nothing’s concrete in terms of Z. You’re always looking to upgrade you football team.”
A first-round pick in 2012, Mercilus has 57 sacks in 134 games. He had 12 sacks in 2015, his only season with eight-plus sacks. He had four sacks in 13 games last year and three sacks in six games this year.
With Houston in rebuilding mode, the 31-year-old was let go on Tuesday to provide more snaps for younger players and to escape the final year of his contract.
“It’s a rebuild phase, honestly, implementing new cultures and philosophies, getting who they want, who applies to their system schematically and philosophically as well, too,” Mercilus told Wilson.
A priority for Mercilus was finding a winning team. The Packers have won five in a row, lead the NFC North by two games and trail Arizona by one game for best record in the NFC.
“For me as far as the direction I want to go, it’s definitely being with a team that has a chance to make it to the playoffs and has a chance to make it to the Super Bowl and to be with a contender, honestly. That’s the direction I want to go, as I’m in the back half of my career, to get a chance to put a cherry on the top.
“Honestly, it’s a blessing. I’m not sad. I’ve been blessed with the time to play 10 years in the NFL, just a kid from Akron. You watch the NFL change lives, change generationally. Being able to have that in my life has been amazing. I’ve impacted so many people on the field and off the field as well. One of the biggest things was talking to people and letting them see how approachable I was, just having a conversation with anybody. It’s been a blessing.”
The Packers are thin at outside linebacker. Za’Darius Smith, Chauncey Rivers and Randy Ramsey are on injured reserve and Preston Smith played only eight snaps at Chicago because of an oblique injury. That left only Rashan Gary, Jonathan Garvin and La’Darius Hamilton at the position. Hamilton was grabbed off Tampa Bay’s practice squad on Sept. 17.
The Packers need Mercilus to become an impact player again. The sacks notwithstanding, he had added little to Houston’s pass rush this season. Of 111 edge defenders with at least 20 percent playing time in passing downs, Mercilus was tied for 93rd in ProFootballFocus.com’s pass-rushing productivity, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap. For context, Mercilus has five total pressures in 102 pass rushes. Garvin has nine in 79, according to PFF.
“If an opportunity presents itself, I know he’ll jump on it.,” LaFleur said of general manager Brian Gutekunst. “The more great players you have, the better the opportunity you have to win football games.”