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Red Zone Play: Have Merci!

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Should the Houston Texans trade Whitney Mercilus?

Divisional Round - Houston Texans v New England Patriots Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

I’ve documented my admiration for star outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus more than once so, this week’s topic should come as no surprise to those who follow Red Zone Play.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell put out a piece last week detailing his Five Moves Each NFL Team Should Make. When it came to Houston, not much caught my attention until I hit his fourth suggestion:

4. Shop Whitney Mercilus for an offensive lineman or a 2018 pick. The Texans have the luxury of three upper-echelon pass-rushers, although they are surely concerned about J.J. Watt’s future given that the former Defensive Player of the Year has missed the better part of two seasons with injuries. Mercilus is a valuable third member of their pass-rush rotation, and with two years and $11.2 million remaining on his contract extension, he’s a bargain relative to the going rates for pass-rushers in free agency.

The very idea of sending Whitney elsewhere was so foreign prior to reading this that I actually had to re-read it after the initial pass. The general thought process over the last several years has been that if Houston is going to win a Super Bowl, it’s going to happen on the strength of the defense. Deliberately weakening the heart of that defense - the pass rush - seems like a ridiculous notion.

Over the last six seasons, which includes last year’s injury shortened campaign, Mercilus has delivered 44.5 sacks (six in the playoffs), 168 solo tackles, 80 assists, as well as forcing and recovering seven fumbles. That’s a lot of production—on a very affordable contract—to trade away for an unknown return.

After mulling it over, I asked fellow BRBers who they might trade away and the responses were equally unappetizing:

Brett:

I would consider trading away Whitney Mercilus if and only if we got a premium offensive lineman in return. Someone like a Kelechi Osemele or Kyle Long. I can deal with Clowney and Watt being our only two good pass rushers as long as Deshaun Watson has protection, because right now this team won’t be going anywhere unless Watson has support.

BFD:

I hate to me-too Brett’s response, but for me, it’d be the most obvious play. Mercilus’ contract also likely makes him the most attractive to any trading partner.

While I really can’t argue the logic here, my gut reaction is once again averse to the very idea. Whitney is a homegrown talent who has been a staple in defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel’s linebacker corps for over a half-decade. Watching him suit up in a Tampa Bay or Buffalo uniform just makes my stomach turn.

While no one will make it out of the shadow of J.J. Watt on or off the field (well, except maybe Deshaun Watson), Mercilus has done great things for the City of Houston as well through his WithMerci Foundation. Losing him would be a blow to the team and the community at large.

But in the end, the NFL is a business, and often business decisions aren’t popular or ‘fan-friendly.’ So what’s a guy to do?

Hopefully Brian Gaine can find other ways to shore up the roster without weakening one area to strengthen another. It doesn’t seem like the easiest conundrum to unravel, but that’s why Gaine gets paid the big bucks.

Meanwhile, I’m continue my hunt for an official #59 jersey to hang next to my Jadeveon Clowney and Watt ones.

What do you think? Would you give up Mercilus for an offensive lineman or a draft pick? If not him, who would you trade for the same or a similar return?