When Whitney Mercilus was called into Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio’s office Tuesday, the veteran pass rusher knew what was coming. His time with the only team he’d known since being a first-round pick in 2012 had come to an end. Cut, and able to pick what team he went to for the first time since choosing to play college football at Illinois, Mercilus had options.
His agent, Todd France, received calls from a bevy of teams looking to improve their pass rush. Kansas City, Pittsburgh and others all came after Mercilus, a guy that had three sacks in six games this season and 57 in his career. The 6-foot-4, 258-pound Ohio native did his homework. He talked with current and former players to learn about the environment and culture of the organizations, studied the different schemes of the teams and even looked at each club’s remaining schedule.
“I did my pros and cons and all that and I prayed on it,” Mercilus said Thursday. “Ultimately, all signs led to here.”
Here turned out to be Green Bay, the Packers winning out for Mercilus’ services despite not offering him the most money, something he confirmed when he spoke with reporters.
“Yeah, it’s true. It’s true,” Mercilus said about taking a little less money to play for the Packers. “But it’s not even about the money at this point. It’s more so trying to get a championship, trying to contribute as much as I can. Year 10, for guys like me on the back half of the career, and all that. Best option that I thought was coming here with a winning mentality. I definitely sense that here and I just want to be a dog and I add to that.”
One of the guys Mercilus spoke with before deciding was Randall Cobb. The wide receiver spent last season in Houston before quarterback Aaron Rodgers pushed for GM Brian Gutekunst to bring him back to Green Bay in a trade. When Cobb first got back to Green Bay, he spoke about feeling rejuvenated by getting away from what had become a toxic, losing environment with the Texans. Though Mercilus spoke positively about most of his time in Houston, getting to a new organization opened his eyes in a major way.
“The mentality from top down — I’m talking about Tippity-top, all the way down — everybody is on the same page,” Mercilus said. “They invest in their players, into people. When you’ve got a mentality like that, that you just know you’re being appreciated and they’re doing everything to invest in you, you want to invest back into that. To experience something like that is awesome.
“I’m just grateful to be here. I’ve been accepted with open arms, love it. The energy is amazing, honestly. It just pumps new life, because I’ve only seen the same four walls for years and to see something different is pretty cool.”
Green Bay adding veteran players to replaced injured guys is also something different but also considered pretty cool to the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, and coach Matt LaFleur. It was rare for the Packers to add established players due to injury when the late Ted Thompson was the general manager. With the signings of cornerback Rasul Douglas off Arizona’s practice squad, grabbing linebacker Jaylon Smith when he was cut by Dallas and now Mercilus, Gutekunst is clearly addressing things in a new manner.
“Guys like that, they want to come to a winning team,” Rodgers said of Mercilus. “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 can breathe some life into a player like that, for sure.”
For Mercilus, he goes from a team competing for the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft to one that has won five straight games, has gone to two straight NFC title games and is in a championship-or-bust mode this season. What he can give the Packers remains to be seen. An outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense for his entire career before this season, Mercilus has seven sacks in his last 19 games. But, as Rodgers said, a fresh start could be just what he needs.
“I feel like I got a lot, man,” Mercilus said when asked how much he had left in the tank. “Felt great out there (Thursday). It feels like I’m revitalized. The youngness in me is back because of a new environment…”