The Arizona Cardinals and Houston Texans are going in two completely different directions when it comes to defensive schemes. Newly hired Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has noted that he will be switching the defense from a 4-3 to an ‘attacking’ 3-4.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Texans slowly converted their 3-4 front into a 4-3 one during the 2018 season — leaving Whitney Mercilus, a natural 3-4 linebacker, as the odd man out on a talented and soon to be expensive defense.
In an increased role as a coverage linebacker, Mercilus struggled for the Texans, and his stat sheet showed it. He dropped to 68th best outside linebacker, according to Pro Football Focus, as he finished the year with a measly grade of 63.1 and just four sacks. But, when he’s told to set the edge, he remains a force to be reckoned with.
When playing strictly as a pass rusher, Mercilus has shined. During the 2015 and ’16 seasons, he was a featured pass rusher and leader for the Texans. He tallied a combined total of 25.5 sacks, 34 tackles for loss, and 47 quarterback hits over 38 games including the postseason. Unfortunately, in 2017, Mercilus tore his pectoral muscle five games into the season, but when he came back in 2018, he showed flashes of dominance when properly utilized in the Texans defense.
For the Cardinals, trading for Mercilus could pay dividends. Not only is he a natural fit as a pass rusher adjacent Chandler Jones, but he is also useful while defending the run. Over the past four years, Mercilus has tallied an NFL second best 19 tackles for loss on the run plays on second and third down, per Pro Football Focus. His boost in run stopping would be massive for a defense that allowed 154.9 rushing yards per game during the 2018 season, the worst mark in the NFL.
Mercilus’ value shouldn’t be sky high. Not only does he look to be the odd man out in the Texans defense, but his age (soon to be 29), 2018 stat line, and $7.3M cap hit, per Spotrac, could lead to the Cardinals landing him for a lower price than expected.
A trade centered around the Cardinals high fourth rounder would make sense on both sides as the Cardinals could bolster their pass rush around Chandler Jones, while the Texans add the highest fourth-rounder in 2018 — a pick that could help them reinforce a shallow depth chart.