Four things to know about new Green Bay Packers edge rusher Whitney Mercilus

JR Radcliffe
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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The Green Bay Packers made it official Thursday, announcing the signing of free-agent edge rusher Whitney Mercilus.

Mercilus, a second-team All-Pro selection in 2016 and longstanding member of the Houston Texans, is changing ZIP codes for the first time in his NFL career. The new Packers outside linebacker  just turned 31 in July and may not be the disruptive force he once was, but the Texans thought enough of him to sign him to a four-year, $43.5 million extension as recently as late December of 2019 (the deal was restructured heading into 2021).

Some things to know about Mercilus:

His career has played out right alongside J.J. Watt

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (59) celebrate after making a stop against the Tennessee Titans in the first half of an NFL game Oct. 18 in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Mercilus was taken in the first round of the 2012 draft, one year after Houston made Wisconsin native J.J. Watt its first-round selection in the draft. The two wreaked a ton of havoc together, though Watt left for Arizona before the season and now Mercilus is gone after starting his 10th season with the Texans. Mercilus' 57 sacks are second in franchise history next to Watt, with a career-best of 12 recorded in 2015. His 13 fumbles forced are also second to Watt, as are his 72 tackles for loss.

He was once a Walter Payton Man of the Year finalist

His WithMerci Foundation has been a proponent for children with disabilities in the Houston area, focusing especially on Prader-Willi Syndrome. The first time Mercilus spoke about his mutual parting from the organization, he spoke to reporters from a ribbon cutting at a middle school that unveiled a remodeled life-skills program for special needs children. He was nominated for Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2018 and said he had no hard feelings about the parting.

A link to his alma mater might have hastened his departure

Oct 23, 2020; Madison, Wisconsin, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Lovie Smith looks on from the sidelines prior to the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Mercilus wasn't at the University of Illinois at the same time as Lovie Smith, but the former Illini coach's arrival in Houston might have hastened Mercilus's departure. Smith, now an associate head coach and defensive coordinator with the Texans after five seasons with Illinois, moved Mercilus to defensive end after he'd been an outside linebacker for the bulk of his career in a 3-4 scheme (Smith brought a 4-3 defense). Mercilus still has three sacks this year and four tackles for loss but also hasn't started since Week 2, with his snap count diminishing below 50 percent for three of the past four games.

Mercilus was a breakout star at Illinois in 2011 during his junior year, when the All-American racked up a gaudy 16 sacks and 22 1/2 tackles for loss, plus nine forced fumbles.

He lost part of a finger in a weightlifting accident ... and credits it for his success?

At Illinois, Mercilus was injured in a freak weightlifting accident that severed his left index finger at the first knuckle. Oddly enough, he has credited the injury with renewing his focus and realizing the fragility of his career, with his breakout at Illinois coming after.

JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or jradcliffe@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.

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