GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers on Thursday signed veteran outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus in hopes of boosting not only their pass rush but their championship hopes.
A first-round pick by the Houston Texans in 2012, Mercilus had 57 sacks in nine-plus seasons. He has three sacks this season but only one season of eight-plus sacks in his career. That was 2015, when he had 12.
With 2020 Pro Bowler Za’Darius Smith on injured reserve and 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.
“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.”
One of those games came in 2020, a 35-20 Packers victory in Houston in which Mercilus had one tackle. He had three tackles for losses when the teams met in Green Bay in 2016.
“He is a guy that you have to account for and he’s been doing it for a long time at a high level,” LaFleur said. “You usually don’t find those types of players in this juncture of the season.”
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 (5-1) have won five consecutive games heading into Sunday’s home game against Washington. Houston, meanwhile, is 5-17 since the start of last season.
“Guys like that, they want to come to a winning team,” quarterback Aaron 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.”
The Packers have been hit hard by injuries as a team and, specifically, at outside linebacker with 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-roud pick Jonathan Garvin and La’Darius Hamilton, who was signed off Tampa Bay’s practice squad last month.
The Packers are hoping Mercilus will give a boost to a defense that not only is without its best pass rusher but its best cornerback. Jaire Alexander, a 2020 Pro Bowl cornerback, is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury.
That increases the challenge of upcoming games against Arizona, Kansas City, Seattle, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Rams.
In terms of total offense, the Chiefs are second, the Vikings are fifth, the Cardinals are seventh and the Rams are eighth.
The Packers have endured injuries before, including the 2010 season, when they won the Super Bowl.
“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.”
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Bill Huber, The Associated Press