Me? I was impressed.
Impressed that the Texans were able to turn a cap hit into a draft pick. Impressed that the Eagles were able to acquire a middle linebacker that they needed without paying inflated free agent prices. Impressed that Ryans would now have a role able to fully utilze his skill-set.
Yes, to me, this was one of those rare trades where everyone wins.
Understanding DeMeco Ryans
When the Houston Texans selected DeMeco Ryans with the 33rd overall pick of the 2006 draft, they figured they’d found their MLB of the future. Someone that would play the spot for the next 10 years as they found a way to slow down Peyton Manning and that prolific Indianapolis Colts offense. He not only turned into the leader of the defense but became one of the better linebackers in the league. But let’s not rewrite history; Ryans was a good but not great player for Houston, and ultimately became replaceable.
He was never the surest of tacklers, missing one in every 10 attempted this year (30th out of 36 qualifying players) and, while not pushed around by linemen or blown up by fullbacks like, say, a Jonathan Vilma, neither was he a Patrick Willis type; excelling in getting off blocks to make plays. In coverage he had his moments, but he was not a linebacker that could match up with backs or tight ends and consistently win.
None of this is to say Ryans was or is a bad player, but when Brian Cushing joined he quickly became the second best linebacker on the team. When Wade Phillips came in and moved to a 3-4 defensive front, the writing was, to some degree, on the wall.
Understanding why the Texans don’t need him
At first it looked as if Cushing may be the odd man out. In Week 1 Ryans seemed the preferred option in the Texans dime defense (Houston almost exclusively use a 4-1-6 in passing situations), with Cushing only replacing him in that package during garbage time. It didn’t last and in Week 2 Cushing was the sole linebacker with his hand off the ground with Ryans taking a seat on the sideline. While Houston would use a nickel package including him on occasion, Ryans usually found himself on the outside looking in with the dime as their primary sub package. It left the former second round pick on the field for just 58.4% of all Texan defensive snaps, and when you have a $5.9m salary, that doesn’t make much sense.
It’s not the sole reason why the Texans are happy to move on. The likely replacement, 2010 4th round pick Daryl Sharpton, is a player the team is keen on giving more snaps after he managed just 55 plays in all of 2011. He’s shown some promise as an early down run defender; even if you are a bit concerned teams may go after him in the passing game the drop off in his key role may not be too precipitous. It is something of a risk replacing Ryans with him, but at the respective costs of the two players for what the Texans want from them, it makes sense.
Understanding why the Eagles needed him
As much as Ryans may have been considered leftovers in Houston, moving to Philadelphia makes him more of a main course. Desperate for an every down linebacker and not prepared to hand out long term deals to free agents Stephen Tulloch or Curtis Lofton, Ryans provides an immediate upgrade at the position. It may be a long time before Eagles fans forget about the horrors of starting Casey Matthews (-10.6) or Jamar Chaney (-10.1) at the MLB spot, but the solid play of the former Texan will go a long way to making it a distant memory. You wouldn’t confuse him with Tulloch when it comes to getting off blocks, but he’s not going to be blown away by the same linemen who previously get to the second level with ease in Philadelphia’s wide-nine scheme. That’s imperative for the Eagles defense to avoid being bullied as it too often was last year.
Understanding that no team lost
DeMeco Ryans is one of a number of NFL players whose reputation precedes his level of play. Synonymous with an underachieving defense, it should be noted that the unit got better the less time he spent on the field. He is a solid player, not a dominant one and to insinuate the Texans got robbed is simply wrong. The way they would have been fleeced is by paying Ryans $5.9m for playing less than 60% of their defensive snaps. They may well lose a little by putting Daryl Sharpton in his place, and it’s true that you can’t quantify how hard it will be losing the leader of their defense. However, given the push they are able to get up front, the improvement of the secondary and the improved play from the linebackers that will be returning, this loss is something that they can overcome.
The extra cap flexibility it gives them now and in the long run is as significant as the draft pick they received for Ryans. It was a move that was somewhat inevitable in hindsight, and an essential one given that football is a business about winning and not sentimentality. That the Eagles happened to get their much needed linebacker, and that DeMeco Ryans will get the three down role his all round game deserves, just makes this deal all the sweeter.