Former Eagles and Houston Texans defensive end N.D. Kalu has a sports radio talk show in Houston now, on KILT. Like many Houstonians, Kalu was surprised by the departure of middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans to the Eagles; unlike most Houstonians, Kalu still pulls passionately for the Birds, so he isn't too grief-stricken.
Your Eagletarian thought it might be fun to catch up with N.D. and get his impressions not only of Ryans, his friend and former Texans teammate, but of the differences Ryans will encounter between being a Texans focal point and assuming that role here.
"It's all about football here, but it's about football at all levels," Kalu said. "In Philadelphia, there's no place like it, when you talk about how passionate the fans are, the city is, for the Eagles. I think he's already noticed that just from the one or two days he's been there."
Talk radio in Houston, Kalu said, "is very different. The fans in Philadelphia are very knowledgeable ... there's no filter on the Philadelphia fans. Here, things are a little bit more laid-back. If they're upset with the team, upset with the coaches, it's not quite as intense. They still want to protect the team. Even when the Texans were bad, if you had a host that would continue to berate the Texans, people would call in and say, 'hey, give 'em another chance, we haven't had football since the Oilers left.' ... People in Philly are going to let you know right away when they're not happy with you."
Kalu, a staunch supporter of Eagles coach Andy Reid, said "it blows my mind" that Reid might be facing a make-or-break year. Texans fans, who finally saw their team win a playoff game last season "would trade places with Philadelphia (organizationally) in a heartbeat," he said.
Kalu said the salary-cap dictated Texans moves this offseason, moves that include the departures of defensive end Mario Williams, offensive tackle Eric Winston and Ryans, have engendered "a lot of panic here with the fans."
Kalu called Ryans 'the heartbeat of the defense," and added: "This is a guy, when he was a rookie, and I was in the huddle with him, it just felt like he was older than I was. I almost wanted to call him 'sir,' and I was 10 years his senior. That really hurt, seeing that guy leave, even when people understood that he didn't fit Wade Phillips' system -- there was no reason why he only played (58) percent of the plays last year ... He's still a great middle linebacker. I think that really hurt the town more (than Williams and Winston) leaving, because he was not only a great football player but a great person."
From the outside, one would think losing Willliams to the Bills in free agency would be a much bigger deal. But Kalu said that Williams, a great player, was a less-beloved figure, that fans never quite felt he lived up to his No. 1 overall draft status. (Maybe they aren't so different from us, after all.)
Kalu said he feels Ryans is just fine in the wake of the Achilles' tendon injury, looked like himself by the end of the 2011 season. Kalu recalled that ex-Eagles teammate Derrick Burgess had the best years of his career after coming back from such a tear, in 2003. Burgess later appeared in two Pro Bowls for the Raiders.
Kalu also had a rationale for why the price -- a fourth-round pick and an exchange of thirds -- seemed so reasonable.
"The main reason for that trade was, they didn't want to trade him in the division," Kalu said. "Jacksonville, Tennessee, Indianapolis -- they'd love to have DeMeco Ryans, and they probably would have given up more to give him, but they didn't want him in the division, and they wanted to make sure he went to a place he would fit in. I think they were trying to look out for him, because they have that much respect for him."
Kalu said when he heard of the deal, he texted Ryans: "YES!!!!" Kalu hasn't played for the Birds since 2005, but "whenever the Eagles play, if they lose, it just ruins my whole day. If they win, I feel good all day ... That only happens with the Philadelphia Eagles" although Kalu also played for the Redskins and Texans.