Eagles trade for middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans

Now we know why the Eagles weren't casting lines to Stephen Tulloch or Curtis Lofton.

They were fishing for a bigger score.

And they pulled him in Tuesday night - Pro Bowl linebacker DeMeco Ryans - and on first impression the Eagles looked like they bagged a big one. All they had to give up was a fourth-round draft pick and a swap of third-round picks with the Houston Texans to get the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Ryans.

On the surface, the acquisition plugs what were gaping holes on the Eagles defense last year.

They get a big-bodied middle linebacker who can fend off blockers behind the wide-nine defensive front. They get a three-down veteran who will mentor a cast of young linebackers. And they get a former captain who will lead a defense lacking in leaders.

It sounds almost too good to be true. And, well, there is a caveat. Ryans is less than two years removed from rupturing his Achilles tendon. He returned last season but wasn't the same player.

Some of his regression can be attributed to Houston switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme in 2011. He had never played behind an odd-man front and started at middle linebacker for 70 straight games before his injury in the seventh game of the 2010 season.

But the Eagles saw a player who they believed only needed to play in a 4-3 again to return old form.

"DeMeco is a proven Pro Bowl linebacker in this league and we're excited to be able to plug him into the middle of our defense," Eagles coach Andy Reid said in a statement. "He's been the signal caller and a leader on a very good Texans defense for the last several years. He's a tough, instinctive football player and he'll be a great fit for our team."

With Ryans in the middle, Jamar Chaney will likely move back to strong-side. The third-year linebacker started last season on the outside but was moved inside when rookie Casey Matthews was overwhelmed. Chaney, though, couldn't handle all the tasks of the job and by the end of the season was only on the field for running plays.

He hasn't been the only Eagles linebacker who has failed in the middle. The Eagles thought they found the heir to Jeremiah Trotter in Stewart Bradley, but Bradley tore his anterior cruciate ligament in 2009 and since then the position has been a revolving door. Even Trotter swung through the door again.

The Bradley injury hurt, but the Eagles have not equipped themselves with competent alternatives. Reid and the Eagles have always considered linebacker a defensive position of less importance than those on the line and in the secondary.

They may say otherwise, but their record in free agency and the draft shows that they don't prefer to invest in the position. It looked as if they were taking a similar approach to free agency this season, but the team did not believe that Tulloch, Lofton and several other candidates were worth their asking prices.

Ryans, though, will cost the Eagles $5.8 million in base salary this season. He's slated to earn $6.6 million in 2013 and $6.8 million in 2014 and 2015. Houston was looking to clear cap space and Ryans no longer fit their scheme, but it was obvious from the reaction of some Texans that it was a tough move to make.

"I wouldn't be half the player or person I am today without [Ryans]," Texans linebacker Brian Cushing tweeted. "This one hurts. Philly got an unbelievable player and leader today."

Houston general manager Rick Smith released a statement saying as much about Ryans, who he called "a class act."

"We'd like to thank Rick Smith and the Texans," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. "Once we found out that he could be available to us in a trade, we quickly found a way to work together to produce a good outcome for both teams."

Selected out of Alabama in the second round of the 2006 draft, Ryans started almost from Day 1. He was voted into the Pro Bowl in his second season and again in 2009. But in 2010 he tore his Achilles in pass coverage against the Chiefs and when he returned the following season his production slipped dramatically.

Before the injury he averaged 8.2 tackles a game; after the injury he averaged only four. He will undergo a physical on Wednesday, one he has to pass before the trade is approved.

The addition of Ryan will likely alter how the Eagles address linebacker in April's draft. Many have pegged the Eagles to select Boston College's Luke Kuechly in the first round, but that was always a long shot since Reid has never drafted a linebacker that early.

Some would argue the team still needs to upgrade at the position. Aside from Chaney and Matthews, Brian Rolle, Keenan Clayton, Akeem Jordan and Moise Fokou are holdovers from last season. Rolle ended his rookie year as the starter at weakside.

There's still plenty of time to work out the details. But for now it looks like the Eagles reeled in a winner.


Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.