HOUSTON -- Given all that has been revealed in recent years about professional athletes and their inability to manage their millions, it was at best morbidly humorous that local media pressed Texans rookie linebacker Whitney Mercilus to divulge plans on how he'd spend his.
The Texans on Thursday announced that Mercilus, the 26th overall selection in April's draft, consummated his agreement with the team. While terms were undisclosed, published reports noted the contract is four years in length and worth 7.6 million, 6.55 million of which is guaranteed. Mercilus reportedly received a 3.99 million signing bonus.
Earlier this week, Houston native and Bills backup quarterback Vince Young, whom the Texans bypassed in favor of defensive end Mario Williams with the first overall pick in 2006, sued his former agent and financial adviser claiming both bilked him out of millions. That sobering news didn't stall the media horde from prodding Mercilus, whose initial outlay seems reasonable in the context of the current economic climate.
"No, I just need to get probably a place or something," Mercilus said. "I can just rent an apartment until I can find somewhere to live here."
Considering the Texans' pragmatic approach to building a winner, an organizational philosophy rewarded via contract extensions signed by both general manager Rick Smith and head coach Gary Kubiak, Mercilus' judiciousness is an ideal fit. He won't enter his rookie season burdened with the responsibility of being a franchise savior, but rather entrusted with the task of fortifying the depth of an exceptional defensive front.
The success Mercilus enjoyed as a first-time starter during his junior season at Illinois feeds the notion that the Texans serve as the perfect landing spot for his services. Mercilus led the nation in sacks (16) and forced fumbles (nine), earning first-team Big Ten honors while claiming the Ted Hendricks Award as the country's preeminent defensive end.
That he started just 15 of 37 career games might suggest that Mercilus needs an eased transition. With Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed ahead of him on the depth chart, Mercilus will get precisely that, allowing him to absorb what he can and attack quarterbacks with reckless abandon.
"I've grown up a lot, pretty fast, too," Mercilus said of his acclimation during organized team activities and minicamp. "They shot it straight at us (rookies) really fast, a hundred miles per hour, and it's a lot of information to take it.
"But it was our time for these three days of minicamp to actually grow up and graduate, and basically go out here and execute what they call."
It is a plus that Mercilus' indoctrination wasn't slowed by a protracted negotiation. To a degree such incidences should be rare after the ratification of the collective bargaining agreement last summer set caps on rookie contracts. With parameters already in place, Mercilus was a full participant over the past four weeks, delving headlong into the NFL.
His enthusiasm was matched by the Texans, whose willingness to validate Mercilus' haste to learn only expedited this agreement.
"I'll tell you what: that's a nice relief for us," said Smith, whose contract was set to expire following this season and was extended through 2016. "In some respects it's better for (Texans vice president, football administration) Chris Olsen because he's the guy in the trenches doing all the contract negotiations. He does a fantastic job and again, is doing another fantastic job with our draft class. We've got two more guys to get signed (third-round picks DeVier Posey and Brandon Brooks), and I'm confident we'll get that done before we go to camp."
Mercilus expressed no qualms about committing to arriving at training camp in peak condition. His primary focus since he first set foot in town is to remain diligent. The challenge of his job orientation is significant, compounded by the unyielding heat that catches expats by surprise.
So while others wondered what Mercilus would purchase now that he's an overnight millionaire, his thoughts lingered elsewhere. If Mercilus is to be all the Texans long for him to become, to match the bar of expectations set by Reed and J.J. Watt during their rookie seasons a year ago, he cannot backslide. He will acquire the material goods that accompany instant wealth, but the grind remains foremost on his mind.
"Oh, no," Mercilus said when asked if he will take a break now that minicamp is complete. "It's a big learning curve, no doubt, but the level of competition is way harder than what college is because everybody is good. So you have to stay on point and well-conditioned all year round."