For weeks now, Philadelphia Eagles fans have all been saying the same thing: “Please bring in a star linebacker!”
Well, it might not have been exactly whom the fans were hoping for, but it sure made a lot of sense.
Many Eagles fans seemed interested in the signings of either Detroit Lions middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch or Falcons ‘backer Curtis Lofton, while the trade rumors surrounding two-time Pro Bowler DeMeco Ryans stayed, for the most part, under the radar.
However, in a deal announced Tuesday, Andy Reid and GM Howie Roseman made a surprise move, dealing for Ryans in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the upcoming draft. The teams will also swap third-round selections, with the Texans taking the 77th overall pick in exchange for the 89th.
That seems like a small price to pay for one of the better middle linebackers in the league. The reason Houston was so eager to deal Ryans was because of his production, or lack thereof, last season. However, the problem is simple: A “MIKE”—or middle—linebacker like Ryans wouldn’t be able to switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 so abruptly and still be able to produce at his previous levels, which is what he was asked to do in Houston.
In fact, before he got hurt during the 2010-2011 season, Ryans was having one of the best careers of any young linebacker in the history of the game, becoming one of only a handful of players to record 110-plus tackles in each of his first four seasons. In addition, he was honored with the 2006 Defensive Rookie of the Year award after recording 156 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2006.
Ryans is a perfect fit for an Eagles defense that needed two things from a free agent linebacker: leadership and run defense. Ryans brings both to the table.
On the leadership side, the Eagles have lacked a defensive leader ever since safety Brian Dawkins departed after the 2008 season. There was no voice in the locker room to rile up players before games, keep them in check during games and step up after games and say the tough things. Even Texans GM Rick Smith lauds Ryans, mentioning his professionalism, work ethic and, most importantly, his leadership qualities. In terms of acquiring a fantastic locker room presence and field general, what more could the Philly faithful have asked for?
Secondly, and more pertinent to the game itself, Ryans is a force in the middle that the Eagles lacked in 2011-2012. This gaping hole allowed prominent backs like Marshawn Lynch, Michael Turner, Fred Jackson and Frank Gore to run wild up the middle and torch the Eagles defense.
While this problem may have been exaggerated at times, it was still one of the most prevalent issues facing the Eagles heading into free agency. In fact, it makes logical sense. Since the Eagles run the wide-nine defense, their defensive ends aren’t very effective in run defense, and this put more pressure on the linebacking corps to step up, get off blocks and make tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, neither Casey Matthews nor Jamar Chaney were able to do this consistently, unlike Ryans. He is bigger than both, at 6’1″ and 247 pounds, and plays downhill; he’ll do the things that are expected from a middle linebacker in the wide-nine.
And just think. The Eagles got all that for one mid-round pick and a loss of 12 draft spots. He even will cost less ($6.6 million) than either Tulloch or Lofton, both of whom were asking for about $8 million. While Tulloch would have made sense as a student of the wide-nine defense, nobody should be complaining about this signing. In fact, Eagles fans should be surprised with their front office. Not only have they made shrewd moves—paying DeSean Jackson a lot less than expected and acquiring Ryans for very little—this offseason, but they also have stayed loyal to their own players by extending or re-signing Jackson, Evan Mathis, Todd Herremans and Trent Cole.
Jeffrey Lurie called the Eagles the “gold standard” last season, to much national ridicule. However, I do believe this trade has them on the right track.