HOUSTON -- Houston Texans head coach David Culley was brief on his statement of the departure of defensive end Whitney Mercilus, but it echoed what the rest of the organization had to say.
"There's very few guys in this franchise that have had the kind of impact that he's had," Culley said Wednesday.
Mercilus, 31, was released Monday following 10 seasons with the organization. The defensive end-turned-outside linebacker in Houston's 3-4 scheme for a decade became an icon and a 1-2-3 pairing in the pass rush along with former Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Under the new 4-3 scheme approach, Mercilus played 52 percent of snaps throughout Houston's first six games. However, there never was a moment of solid production during those reps. He recorded three sacks, but was increasingly inconsistent as a tackler.
Culley said following the 31-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts that Houston needed "change" should the team hope to break its five-game losing streak. Allowing Mercilus to find another team gives him a similar opportunity to win a championship like Watt.
It also also the Texans to see which young players could be viewed as capable starters in the rebuilding process.
"The position he plays, we have as much depth there as any other position on our team," Culley said. "We got some young guys there. Ross (Blacklock) is coming and basically it became being able to see those guys and those young guys have done well."
Mercilus is the third release of veteran talent this offseason. First came slot receiver Anthony Miller, whom the team traded for this offseason from the Chicago Bears. Fellow wide receiver and kickoff specialist Andre Roberts was also released following his poor start.
That might not be the end of the Texans letting go of roster space in the future. Houston will save less than $1 million in salary cap space this season for Mercilus' release, but it's about finding the long-term names in the franchise.
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Fellow defensive end Charles Omenihu could follow suit if Culley and general manager Nick Caserio receive an offer via the trade market. The third-year defensive end has been a healthy scratch the past two games due to roster decisions on gameday.
His status for Sunday's road trip against the Arizona Cardinals also seems to be in a hiatus based of Culley's comments.
"It depends on practice," Culley said of Omenihu's role with the defense. "We always based those decisions on how guys practice."
Omenihu is on a cost-affordable contract at under $1 million this season and slightly over than number entering the final year of his rookie. Perhaps the more significant factor is his adaptability, playing both as a defensive end and standing blitzer.
The biggest name likely available is linebacker Zach Cunningham. Another player signed by former head coach and GM Bill O'Brien, has been limited in play over the past three games. Last week against the Colts, he played a career-low 14 snaps.
Smith also has elected to take the former second-round pick off the field in favor of Christian Kirksey and Kamu Grugier-Hill when running sub-packages in coverage. Cunningham also was a healthy scratch in Week 4 against the Buffalo Bills due to "personal reasons."
Safety Eric Murray, another O'Brien blunder free agent signing, likely receives little interest on the trade market due to his lack of playing time. The former Browns defender has struggled in coverage opposite Justin Reid and hasn't played a defensive snap since Week 3.
The biggest question is would Houston be willing to cut either player for a bigger cap hit? Mercilus, who agreed to terms on a four-year $54 million extension before the start of last season, recorded just four sacks and seven quarterback hits since the start of 2020.
Cunningham, who agreed to a four-year, $58 million contract extension, offers value to other teams. Last season, he led the NFL in tackles with 164 stops. Houston would have to eat part of that salary, but perhaps for a mid-round selection, a deal gets done.
Culley and Caserio won't allow bad contracts to stop them from building the Texans in their image for the foreseeable future. Should they view any player as a expandable, their time at NRG Stadium could be ending before the season's conclusion.