Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

20 Mar 2012

Texans Trade DeMeco Ryans to Eagles

This one stunned me at first, but apparently it makes more sense to people who watched the Texans a lot last year. Houston is dealing linebacker DeMeco Ryans to Philadelphia for a mid-round pick. Apparently, this is a similar issue to when the Jets got rid of Jonathan Vilma because he didn't fit after they moved to a 3-4 scheme. From Rivers McCown, our man in Houston, over e-mail:

"He was a two-down player last year, and might have lost the starting job to Darryl Sharpton had he not hurt himself. He hasn't been the same since the achilles injury. I love DeMeco and all, but given where the Texans are at cap-wise, I can see this making some sense for them. He was not the same player he was in 2009."

For the Eagles, though, it's hard to imagine a bigger need. They've been skimping on linebackers for years. Now they have a talented guy to sit in the middle of that defense and take on all the runners that get to slide through big gaping holes in the wide-9 pass rush.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 20 Mar 2012

49 comments, Last at 26 Mar 2012, 7:20pm by Mr Shush


by Rabbit :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 7:36pm

Super team!

by bubqr :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 8:10pm

Can we have more comments than this depressing one from HOU fans ? I was pumped up before reading this...

by Tom Gower :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 8:28pm

Super team leader, by all accounts a great guy on and off the field. Fans loved him. No guaranteed money beyond this season. Good fit at 4-3 MLB on first and second downs.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 5:47am

I think this trade's just a win-win. Ryans was getting paid too much for the role he was playing on the Texans, but he'll have a far bigger role that suits his skill set far better in Philadelphia. Your upside is an underpaid pro bowler, and your downside is a slightly overpaid above average starter at a major position of need. Be happy.

by chemical burn :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 3:05pm

Even if he failed to meet the expectations folks had for him in his career, he is the second best Eagles linebacker in 15 years, edging Stewart Bradley. Way, way better than Chaney (who can now slide to his more natural SAM spot) or Matthews (despite late season improvements.) This is a move that fixes the entire Eagles' LB corps by shoring up MLB and SAM: Rolle, Ryans, Chaney is the best Eagles' LB group of the Reid era.

Sure, he's only a borderline Pro-Bowler (if that), but he's clearly better at MLB than Simoneau, Trotter 2.0 (with bad knees), Chaney, Will Weatherspoon or Casey Matthews. Be happy. He's, at worst, Stewart Bardley pre-injury-level. At worst.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Thu, 03/22/2012 - 8:32pm

Rolle, Ryans, Chaney is the best Eagles' LB group of the Reid era.

Um, no, I'll take exception to that. In 2001, Trotter, Emmons, and Caldwell were probably the best (which really shows how depressing a selection it is). Trotter was an absolute beast that year, and Emmons and Caldwell were at least serviceable (though Caldwell was definitely just about done). 7.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, most in the Reid era for a linebacking corps (and infinitely more than last year, who were without a doubt the worst in the Reid era).

by chemical burn :: Mon, 03/26/2012 - 10:04am

I just don't agree with you: the 2001 LB squad benefited from the rest of the defense being so excellent - Emmons and Caldwell were exactly the kind of sub-par journeymen that you would howl about the Eagles trying to slot in if they were slated to be in 2012 line-up. They were nothing special, just competent - and the defense around them allowed them to put up stats. Emmons ain't better than Chaney and Caldwell certainly never did as much as Rolle already did in his rookie year. Trotter 2001 is, of course, in the running for the greatest Eagles' MLB of all time, so if you want to weigh that as being worth so much more than Ryans (who I am expecting to be solid but unspectacular, which seems like the most sober assessment, all things considered) I won't fight you. But you can see how it's pretty much a wash.

I'm not sure 2011 was the worst. By the end of the year, they were fine. Any injuries would have derailed them because there was zero depth, but they were perfectly acceptable. 2006 is definitely the year I spent the most time cursing the LB's names. Matt McCoy is almost definitely the worst starting Eagle LB of all-time and Trotter was falling apart by the end of the year (the playoff loss where he couldn't change direction at all was painful to watch.) When Dhani Jones is the highlight of the unit, you have problems.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 8:26pm

Well that pretty much seals Hightower falling to the Steelers


Velvet Sky fan

by justanothersteve :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 8:44pm

Unless the Packers trade up to grab him first.

by Dewey (not verified) :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 8:57pm

This also closes (in theory) the book on the McNabb deal between the Eagles and the Redskins:

The #Eagles got Nate Allen, Casey Matthews, and DeMeco Ryans.

The #Redskins got McNabb.

by Mr Shush :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 9:30pm

This doesn't really surprise me - I was slightly (only slightly) taken aback when Winston was cut, primarily because I expected Ryans to be the cap casualty. It's not that he's a bad player, it's that the big extension he signed before his injury was no longer justifiable for a variety of reasons.

1. Play slipped somewhat. Not to the point of being actually bad, but not where it was earlier in his career. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he bounced back through being closer to 100% this year.
2. Better fit in a 4-3 than a 3-4. The Vilma comparison is apt.
3. Emergence of Brian Cushing as an elite 3-4 ILB and team leader. This made Ryans' undoubted leadership skills and smarts more dispensable, and kept him off the field on third down.

Eagles fans, don't worry, you're not being sold a pup. Even if he never fully regains his pre-injury form, Ryans will be the best linebacker you've had in God knows how long (although perhaps a touch overpaid at around $6.5m a year). If he does get his a-game back, he's a borderline pro bowler. Either way, he's a great guy, a great team-mate and an on-field leader. As a Texans fan, I'm sorry things didn't work out for him in Houston, glad the team was able to get some value for him in a trade, and wish him the very best in Philadelphia.

Wierd to think that of those incredible Denver and Houston 2006 draft classes, only Dumervil, Kuper and Daniels are now left with the team that picked them.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 9:58am

Philly's actually had half-decent linebackers sporadically over the past decade - Stewart Bradley for a year, Jeremiah Trotter for a little while, etc. The problem is that none of them last. By the end of the season each year, tons of Eagles fans are upbeat about the linebackers, because Random New Linebacker X has shown 'promise' or 'played great,' only to regress and/or suffer a major injury the next year.

So sadly, I won't be jumping for joy yet about acquiring a linebacker who didn't appear to be all the way back from a previous injury. The Eagles paid way too little for Ryans. That just makes me nervous.

by MJK :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 11:33am

"Eagles fans, don't worry, you're not being sold a pup. "

Good thing, too, with Michael Vick at QB...

by enderwiggins (not verified) :: Tue, 03/20/2012 - 11:01pm

As a cowboy fan this move really worries me. DeMeco Ryan was a tackling machine before his injury. Seems like a major upgrade for the eagles.

by Drunkmonkey :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 12:10am

Wait... the Redskins getting a few good deals on free agency? The Eagles getting an actual linebacker?


by Theo :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 4:35am

Before you know it, the Brownies are going to put actual receivers on the field.

by Drunkmonkey :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 9:53am

And then the Dolphins will sign somebody!!! Gaaaahhhh!!!!

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 10:00am

Nononono! You're misunderstanding. It's before the beginning of the season. Eagles linebackers don't turn into pumpkins until the first few games.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 10:37am

I dunno, quite a few were looking pretty orange, round and squishy in August.

by tuluse :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 10:42am

It's a shame FO didn't have a funniest moment vote this year. The Eagles linebackers trying to tackle Marshawn Lynch has to be up there.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 12:16pm

I thought Ronnie Brown's voluntary fumble was a shoo in. Or Suh putting the shoe in.

by Independent George :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 11:34am

That's crazy talk; pumpkins don't come into season until the fall.

by Shattenjager :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 12:07pm

They were becoming clown noses, not pumpkins.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 12:23pm

Last year, absolutely. But for some reason Eagles fans last year just looked at the linebackers and said "Oh, that must just be the Eagles new alternate uniforms" or something. It wasn't until they got baked into a pumpkin pie by the first receiver/RB to blow by them that fans realized "oh, that's a pumpkin..."

Seriously, many Eagles fans were actually not terrified about the fact that they were starting absolutely zero linebackers with a full year's starting experience (and none drafted higher than the 4th round, I think, but don't quote me on that) last year.

Me, I'm always properly terrified about the linebacker situation in Philly. I personally believe this is a healthy attitude towards a front office who has not had the same starting linebackers two years in a row ever. Of all the linebackers they've drafted (and there've been quite a lot), the only one they've ever resigned to a new contract was Jeremiah Trotter... after they let him go in free agency originally.

So it's fair to say they have absolutely zero ability to evaluate linebackers. That, combined with the fact that Houston let him go for a song, makes me terrified.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 12:26pm

So to sum up, you think Ryans could get squashed...

by chemical burn :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 3:11pm

yeah, but you're looking at it all wrong: what would you have preferred they do differently? Pick up a veteran with less upside for equal price (or more)? Was there a more sure thing LB on the market in anywhere near the price-range? Or did you want them to use a high round draft pick and put another rookie LB out there? This is the right move, if only because it makes SAM better, too.

by DavidL :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 3:37pm

I think the issue is that after the last 15 years, we've come to assume that any linebacker move the Eagles make will fail to pan out. So barring actual high-level play from Ryans, the only standard used to judge a new linebacker in Philly is the amount of cap space being wasted on him.

by chemical burn :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 3:52pm

Yeah, but I can just see Pat's negative views no matter they did "First round LB pick? But they've shown no ability to properly identify or develop good LB's - plsu, it's like 2011 all over again with rookies forced into starting roles!" or "Yeah, he's good, but look what they gave up to get him - a second round pick for an aging veteran? They should have used that pick to develop a good player for the future."

Basically, it is my experience that Pat wants them to find several Simoneau-esque 4 or 5 year veterans (smart, undersized, not prone to injury) and plug them in all across the line. Or have a half dozen of them so 3 could hang around as back-ups. That's fine. It is, however, not the only good way to build a LB corps...

Also, for all the shit the Reid era LB's get, they've made many good value moves - including bringing back Trotter, bringing in Simoneau and Jones, developing Bradley and Gocong (who is a league-average starter.) If Bradley hadn't gone down with injuries and Chaney could have stayed comfortably at SAM, we'd be talking about the Eagles' LB's the way we do their WR's - that is, the story went from "they can't develop or find one to save their lives" to "hey, that weak unit is now a strength."

by DavidL :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 3:57pm

I can't speak for Pat, but speaking as another pessimist, I'd take good players no matter how the front office finds them – I just don't trust them to find good players. So the smart play is...well, the 2011 strategy, really – plug in a bunch of fifth-round picks at the league minimum, accept that they're going to perform like the Keystone Kops tracking down Ted Kaczynski, and scheme accordingly while focusing your cap strategy on bringing in talent at positions where you don't have a chronic blind spot for talent.

by chemical burn :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 4:23pm

Yeah, but that's my point - they don't have a chronic blind-spot for talent. They have a lot of bad luck with injuries and no desire to spend significant money at the position. That they've consistently managed to find guys like Simoneau, Dhani Jones, Trotter, Rolle, Bradley and Chaney for almost no money whatsoever shows that actually are ok at their plan - the sticking point has really been injuries and depth. But that's the price they've been willing to pay for putting their money elsewhere. Again, those are different problems than not being able to identify or develop talent.

Also, it should be noted that after Matthews left the starting, line-up 2011 LB's where hardly the biggest problem on defense - the tackling and run support was awful at all three levels with Babin, Samuel and Nate Allen being the worst offenders by a mile. The Eagles LB's were "so-so" at worst by the end of the season and Rolle and Matthews both made a half dozen great plays each in the opponents' backfield in the final four games. Anyhoo, the Eagles defense will struggle so long as Jenkins and Babin continue to be on the field at the same time - that's the root of all their problems and it cascades out from there to CB's who are genuinely awful against the run and a safety who takes ridiculously bad angles and gets burned in coverage...

by tuluse :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 4:29pm

I don't follow the Eagles closely, but it seemed to me that their linebacker issues came from a system devaluing (some might say undervaluing) of the position, not an inability to figure out if a player was good or not.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Thu, 03/22/2012 - 11:55am

Nono, they're not able to figure out whether a player is good or not.

I hate the idea that a system 'devalues' any defender on the field. It's not like an offense, where you dictate how you're going to use certain players. No matter what, you put a defender on the field, and an offense can target him. Cover-2 offenses devalue certain types of corners, for instance, but the corners they put in there still have to be able to play. Put a corner that can't tackle in a Cover-2 defense and you're still giving up 15-20 yards a pop.

In fact, the fact that the Eagles are constantly having problems at linebacker probably implies that the system they've been using puts too much on the cheapo linebackers they've been trying to use. Running backs making linebackers look silly in open space has been a staple of Philly defenses for a looong time.

by tuluse :: Thu, 03/22/2012 - 12:12pm

I didn't mean a system in terms of how they play, but rather an organizational system. The Eagles don't seem to care how bad their linebackers are, and rarely spend any kind of resources on the position.

Sometimes I feel like Andy Reid just wants to prove to everyone that running the ball is outdated and the Eagles will neither do it nor be able to stop it.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Thu, 03/22/2012 - 12:30am

They have a lot of bad luck with injuries and no desire to spend significant money at the position

You don't think these two are related?

Trotter's knees were the main reason Washington released him before Philly picked him up again. Shockingly, his knees didn't magically heal, and caused him to only have 2 effective seasons back with the Eagles.

Bradley suffered a torn ACL in his junior season, and then shockingly tore an ACL with the Eagles in 2009.

The Eagles refuse to spend money on linebackers, so sometimes they go with a cheap option who's had an injury history, and shockingly, those guys get injured.

by chemical burn :: Mon, 03/26/2012 - 9:52am

Pat, this argument is so absurd I can't even believe you're making it: youre saying their problems with injury (i.e. the Bradley injuries that threw off their LB plans for the past few years) are the result of cheapness? Are you suggesting that they should have cut Bradley and moved on the moment he got hurt and not given him a chance to come back from the injury (insane) or that they should have had a back-up MLB on the roster that was just as good as him (also an insane position to take)?

They had what they felt was a fine back-up (and I know you agree because you've said so at other times) in 2009 and 2010. They had a perfectly ok LB corps for a unit that lost its best player in 2009 speaks to what the Eagles did right. That they had a rash of injuries in 2010 and fielded a pretty bad squad couldn't have been prevented by spending more money and probably couldn't have been prevented by using high draft picks in 2008 & 2009 (since you are vocally against the idea of starting rookies at LB), unless you want to lose the players they picked up in those drafts - you know, guys like DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy.

2011 is the one year they really botched it, but only if you agree with the idea that they shouldn't have gone with youth and tried to develop the next generation of LB's. And again, Rolle, Chaney, Jordan/Matthews was a perfectly acceptable unit by the end of the season and definitely not the source of their worst play on defense. In other words, their plan at LB panned out after a bumpy start.

But the point is: the Eagles have never fielded elite LB units because they don't spend money or high draft picks at the position - but the reason they have fielded BAD squads is injury related and no team is going to have high caliber back-ups, unless they want to WASTE money.

by Mr Shush :: Mon, 03/26/2012 - 7:20pm

I honestly don't know if this is the case or not, but it seems to me that one way of reconciling your positions on this would be if part of the reason the guys who got hurt were cheap in the first place was because they weren't durable.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Thu, 03/22/2012 - 12:42am

Yeah, but I can just see Pat's negative views no matter they did "First round LB pick? But they've shown no ability to properly identify or develop good LB's

Are you nuts? The Eagles' #1 problem with linebackers is that they refuse to spend money or resources on them. They always take the cheaper path. If they would draft an LB in the first round, or trade serious value for one, I'd be giddy, because it would mean they're actually taking it seriously.

When I saw the trade for Ryans I was like "woah, this could be them taking it seriously." Then I saw it was for basically peanuts, and I immediately said "crap, no one else in the league thinks Ryans is really that good either. This is the Eagles just hoping for a cheap bargain."

Basically, it is my experience that Pat wants them to find several Simoneau-esque 4 or 5 year veterans (smart, undersized, not prone to injury) and plug them in all across the line. Or have a half dozen of them so 3 could hang around as back-ups. That's fine. It is, however, not the only good way to build a LB corps...

No, not really. What I want is for the team to find linebackers that don't suck and be willing to keep them. So then maybe, just maybe, they'll start the same linebackers two years in a row. What a shock that would be.

But given the fact that they're totally unwilling to spend resources on linebackers, yes, it makes sense to just go with "safe" options rather than constantly trying to find a great, cheap linebacker that you won't resign anyway.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 03/22/2012 - 1:00am

Only in Philly are fans pissed that they gave up so little to get a good player. Texans fans are pissed about this trade.

Face it, the market for LBs is dry this year. Tulloch resigned with the Lions for relative peanuts, and he was fantastic last year. The Lions are thrilled to have him back.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Thu, 03/22/2012 - 8:59am

I'm not pissed. I'm worried. No other team thought he was worth a 3rd round pick and a long term contract.

If we were talking about offensive linemen, I wouldn't care, because I'd believe the Eagles saw something other teams didn't. But the Eagles don't find diamond in the rough linebackers. They find average to washed up linebackers.

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 03/22/2012 - 10:03am

It's only a long term contract for as long as the Eagles think it's worthwhile: he's on around $6.5m a year for four more years, but there's no guaranteed money or pro-ration, so they can cut him without penalty at any time.

Basically, whether this turns out to be a good deal will come down to whether more time allows Ryans to return to his pre-injury level of play. If he does, it's a bargain. If not, they will be overpaying for a solid but unspectacular starting linebacker.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Thu, 03/22/2012 - 11:42am

Basically, whether this turns out to be a good deal will come down to whether more time allows Ryans to return to his pre-injury level of play. If he does, it's a bargain. If not, they will be overpaying for a solid but unspectacular starting linebacker.

Exactly. The amount of money isn't that bad - $6M or so isn't too high for a linebacker, and the fact that there's no guaranteed money attached to it anymore makes it pretty team-friendly. The fact that no one else was willing to offer a 3rd round pick for this option means that most teams do not think that he will be returning to his pre-injury level of play.

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 03/22/2012 - 6:17am

The draft picks may be peanuts, but Ryans' contract averages about $6.5m a year from here on out, which is why the Texans didn't want to keep him. They're committing significant cap room, albeit with the ability to cut him at any time with no dead money.

by rewdog10 (not verified) :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 12:52pm

Why did Ryans get traded and Winston get cut ? Isn't Winston better ? Why couldn't the Texans have gotten something for Winston ?

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 1:00pm

Winston, in the open market, signed a deal which averaged significantly less per year than he was slated to earn in 2012 as a Texan. It follows that teams probably didn't want him on the contract he was on. The Eagles, on the other hand, obviously believe Ryans can play up to his contract. If he plays at his 2011 level, they will be wrong (though perhaps not horribly wrong). If he plays at his 2009 level - perhaps because 2011 was a combination of not having had time to fully recover from injury and being in a 3-4 scheme which didn't suit him too well - they will be getting a bargain. Ryans at his best is/was a significantly better player than Winston at his best. Whether he can get back there remains to be seen.

by chemical burn :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 3:14pm

One quick note: the Eagles abandoned the nine-wide at halftime of the Buffalo game and rarely used it afterwards. Getting rid of it was a big part of their defensive turnaround.

by Jimmy :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 3:25pm

That being true it didn't make Babin defend the run.

by chemical burn :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 3:52pm

Babin is the worst. Any comments I make could come with the note "that said, Babin is far and away their biggest problem on defense."

by Tim R :: Thu, 03/22/2012 - 11:21am

But he went to the probowl

by Kevin from Philly :: Wed, 03/21/2012 - 7:48pm

Guess that puts the birds back in line for the best available slow small DE with their first pick.