By David F. Cohen
One of the biggest surprises of the NFL free agency period is that it appears that Eagles’ linebacker DeMeco Ryans may be back for 2015, if he recovers sufficiently from his Achilles tendon injury.
At least that’s what Birds Supreme Leader Chip Kelly says.
When the Eagles made a big trade to kick off the offseason wheeling and dealing in the NFL, speculation immediately held that Ryans had been put on the chopping block.
In discussing Philly’s personnel moves last week at a press conference, Kelly said parting ways with Ryans isn’t in the team’s plans.
Philly shipped the franchise’s all-time rushing leader, LeSean McCoy, to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for Kiko Alonso. An inside linebacker who started his collegiate career under Kelly at Oregon, Alonso won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2013 before missing last season because of an ACL tear.
Alonso plays the same position as Ryans, who is due to cost the Eagles $6.9 million for the 2015 season. Philly could take every cent of that off its books by releasing Ryans, who missed half of last season after his second Achilles tendon tear in four years. Those factors made Ryans’ release seemed plausible, even though Kelly said in his season-ending press conference in January the team needed Ryans back for the 2015 season because he “sets the tone for everybody on the defensive side of the ball.”
Kelly reiterated that message during his free-agency press conference, saying it’s a good thing to have three capable players for two positions. Last season, the Eagles used four starters at their two inside linebacker spots because of injuries. Ryans missed eight games. Mychal Kendricks, the other regular at inside linebacker, started 11 games, the same number as Casey Matthews, who is now a free agent. Emmanuel Acho started two games at inside linebacker for Philadelphia in 2014.
“I like having really good football players,” Kelly said about keeping Ryans on the roster. “Michael missed some games last year, DeMeco missed games last year, Kiko has missed games. We’re trying to accumulate as many good football players as we can.”
Without Ryans last season, the Eagles’ defensive statistics worsened some, especially against the run. In the first eight games of 2014, the Birds gave up an average of 24.6 points, 373.1 total yards and 91.9 rushing yards per game. In the final eight games of 2014, the Eagles yielded an average of 27.9 points, 378.0 yards and 104.5 rushing yards per game. Where Philadelphia really took a dive came in its record. After going 6-2 in the first half of the season, the Eagles went 4-4 in the second half to play their way out of postseason consideration.
Ryans had 45 tackles and an interception before going down last season. In 2013, when he played more defensive snaps than anyone in the NFL, Ryans had 127 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions. Ryans has made at least 112 tackles in six of his seven full NFL seasons. Ryan was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2006 with the Houston Texans and has been selected for the Pro Bowl twice.