By Peter Gleason
Okay, class, raise your hand if you think Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans will be on the team when the 2015 season begins.
Can’t see you. Raise them higher!
Ryans suffered his second Achilles tendon injury last year, he will be 31 this year and is entering the final season of his contract.
The truth is he will be lucky to make it back for training camp in July, and even though he is a two-time Pro Bowler it is hard to see the Eagles counting on him for 2015.
Here’s what Eagles coach Chip Kelly told Reuben Frank for CSNPhilly.com.
“We need DeMeco, I’m a big DeMeco fan,” Kelly said. “As a group, he really sets the tone for everybody on the defense side of the ball. So it’s just a matter of getting DeMeco healthy again.”
Ryans’ health is the biggest uncertainty, although his salary certainly isn’t helping matters, either. The $6.9 million he’s owed for ’15, according to Spotrac, would’ve been a hefty sum before a second Achilles injury and uncertain recovery—especially considering dumping the contract wouldn’t result in any dead money against the salary cap.
Then again, the problem is and always has been the question of who replaces Ryans.
A cursory glance at the potential free-agent market doesn’t reveal any easy answers, and the draft is always a dicey way to go, which Marcus Smith proved last year. Mychal Kendricks holds down one spot in the middle, but the Birds start two.
The Eagles aren’t as devoid of talent at the position as it would appear. Things looked worse than they were because Najee Goode, an up-and-coming reserve who was poised for a bigger role in ’14, suffered a season-ending injury of his own in Week 1. Travis Long, originally an outside linebacker, was learning the ropes on the interior during training camp before he was knocked out for the year as well.
Is it a stretch to think either Goode or Long could be a potential replacement?
Perhaps, but let’s not forget that Casey Matthews—2011 fourth-round pick and longtime whipping boy of the Philly fanbase—filled in quite well this past season. Emmanuel Acho, a journeyman/practice-squad type, pitched in as well, with occasional appearances from Smith, another outside backer by trade.
Was it the ideal setup? Not at all. Was it a serious issue for the Eagles? Didn’t often appear to be.
That’s not to say the club should just up and dump Ryans first thing tomorrow. However, surely such a move isn’t beyond consideration at some point.
Unless the Eagles really want that $6.9 million—and unless a blockbuster offseason is in the works, they shouldn’t require it—there’s no real reason not to see where Ryans is come training camp. He’ll almost definitely be the defense’s best option for opening day, if he’s ready, and even if he spends some time on the PUP list and joins the team after Week 6, that might be for the best.
The one thing the Eagles can’t afford, though, is to rely on Ryans’ recovery and, in the process, cling to that salary. If it gets to be August and it’s apparent Ryans isn’t ready, a difficult decision will likely need to be made.