In precisely the sort of necessary exercise NFL writers take when they’re mining for original content in the doldrums of the offseason, Danny Kelly recently took a look at every NFL roster in search of “every team’s most underpaid non-rookie-contract player.” It’s an enjoyable read that I highly recommend you undertake. Should you wish to maintain your focus squarely upon the residents of NRG Park, however, here’s who Kelly concluded was the Texans’ most underpaid veteran:
Houston Texans: OLB Whitney Mercilus
Contract: A four-year, $26 million contract signed in May 2015
Average annual value: $6.5 million (39th among all edge rushers)
2017 salary and bonuses: $4.97 million (55th among all edge rushers)
Total guaranteed at signing: $10.7 million (43rd among all edge rushers)
Mercilus’s traditional stats from 2016–53 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and a forced fumble — don’t stand out. But those numbers fail to paint a complete picture of just how disruptive the 26-year-old pass rusher really was for the Texans last year. Per Football Outsiders, Mercilus racked up 29.5 total quarterback pressures, just one fewer than teammate Jadeveon Clowney and 20th among all pass rushers league-wide. That put him above Calais Campbell, Jason Pierre-Paul, Chandler Jones, Fletcher Cox, and Malik Jackson in that category, all of whom are playing on deals in the $60 million–to–$100 million range.
I cannot take any umbrage with that selection. Fun fact: I thought the Texans’ decision to give Mercilus a four-year extension two years ago was a mistake. I believed he was mediocre, a guy who’d surely get more on the open market than Houston should pay, particularly given the other looming contract concerns the team had at the time.
Naturally, as I am with so, so many things Houston Texan, I was terribly wrong. Whether it’s the teaching of Mike Vrabel or simple growth as a professional, Whitney Mercilus has been fantastic and is undoubtedly one of the best bargains in the entire league.