Edge rusher Whitney Mercilus has been a staple for the Texans defense since 2012, but the 2018 season turned to a new, less stellar chapter in Mercilus’ career.
Mercilus is undoubtedly talented, yet in 2018 he failed to find a role as both Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt were healthy all season. If the Texans were to trade the 28-year-old, they would save $6.5 million in 2019, per Over The Cap.
1. He’s not happy and didn’t perform well in 2018.
Romeo Crennel dropped Whitney Mercilus into coverage for the most time ever in his career, with mediocre results. According to Texans insider PatDStat, he’s not very pleased with the role change. His sack totals dropped from an average of 6.25 in six seasons to 4, despite starting every game.
But he is arguably more talented than his production shows. He was the tertiary pass-rusher behind J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Mercilus has performed well when the defense centered closely to him, particularly in 2016 and 2017, when racked up 19.5 sacks in that span. If a team wants to take a flyer on the veteran linebacker, the production in a starring role is there.
2. Cap relief.
At the moment the Texans are sitting at around $67 million in cap space, per Over The Cap. But a significant portion of that space will go to resigning starters Clowney, Jackson, Tyranne Mathieu and Ka’imi Fairbairn. If Brian Gaine chooses to be aggressive in free agency, adding another $6.25 million would help.
Not only would the increased cap space be useful in the 2019 off-season, they could also roll over their remaining cap to next year when signing Fuller V, Cunningham, Reader and others to extensions become a need.
3. More draft picks.
Mercilus won’t haul in a 1st round pick, but his market should be high. NFL teams are constantly searching for a quality edge rusher, and Mercilus is just that.
Even reeling in a third-round pick would be a success. There are some serious holes on the Texans roster, but they only have seven draft picks to work with. If Gaine sees Mercilus as a piece to acquire young talent they should do so.
4. Duke Ejiofor
Some might not know the name, but they will soon. The 2018 6th round draft pick has only accumulated one sack, but he is showing signs to be a steal as a situational pass rusher. Ejiofor started taking snaps away from Mercilus late in the season, proving the coaching staff might see something in the Houston native.
Ejiofor has a solid 6-4, 220 lb frame, length, and solid speed to reel around the edge. He knows how to use his hands properly, has an explosive first step and an array of pass rushing moves. If the Texans trade away Mercilus, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ejiofor playing in the same role as a complementary pass-rusher alongside Watt and Clowney.