For all intents and purposes, the trade for DeMeco Ryans in the 2012 off-season was an astounding success for Howie and the Eagles. However, it is my contention that Howie should seriously explore trading him this off-season. Please allow me to explain why.
First, let’s revisit the trade:
The Eagles sent picks #76 and #99 to Houston in return for DeMeco and pick #88. For the record, Houston selected Brandon Brooks, G- Miami (OH) and Ben Jones, C- Georgia, respectively. A whopping 10 starts and 22 games played between them. Meanwhile, the Eagles took Foles with the 3rd rounder they got back. All in all, a pretty good deal for the Eagles. (Information per Wikipedia)
Immediately after the trade, (please insert what you consider to be the appropriate amount of sarcasm for this next part) the absolute proper time for grading a transaction, some questioned whether or not DeMeco could still be a successful MIKE in the NFL. He was a former Pro Bowler, had a streak of 70 consecutive starts to his name and was widely considered to be a veteran leader in the HOU locker room. He was very popular among Texan players and when news of his trade had surfaced, well, let’s just say that it led to more than a few sad faces among his former teammates.
So, why was HOU looking to move such a successful LB and respected locker room guy? Well, he was less than 2 years removed from a rupture of his Achilles tendon and had showed potential signs of regression in 2011. The dip in production could have been due to HOU’s move to a 34 and DeMeco going from his more natural fit as a 43 MLB to the 34 ILB. Maybe it was a result of not returning to full health after his injury. Maybe it was due to Brian Cushing’s emergence as a stud ILB, decreasing DeMeco’s opportunities to make plays. It could have been a combination of all 3. The fact is HOU now saw DeMeco as an expensive 2 down ILB that had been displaced by Cushing as the leader of the on the field defense.
Some of the /clears throat … experts questioned whether or not DeMeco’s 2011 was a sign of his eventual decline and whether or not the Eagles had made the right move.
It wasn't and they did. Let’s look at some evidence, stats via NFL.com.
He was 9th in combined tackles with 113 for MLBs (25th for all LBs), 86 solo and 27 assists. He also added 1 sack, 5 passes defended and 1 takeaway (1 Int. and 0 FFs). Now, his ancillary stats aren't going to wow many people, but the main responsibility of 43 MLBs is to make tackles. And he did just that. At least, he did so more than every other Eagles MLB since Trotter. He also passed the highly scientific Eye Test; he flat out looked like the best Eagles defender on the field far more often than he didn't.
So, at this point, you may be wondering why I am advocating trading him after building a rather convincing case for him still being a highly successful MLB in the league.
The Eagles should move to a base 34 Defense (with some hybrid concepts) and while I think DeMeco can be successful in this scheme, or at least successful enough, I don’t think he is a prototypical 34 ILB. And honestly, that isn’t even the main reason why I think we should trade him. It has more to do with capitalizing on his peak value and increasing the assets that are at Howie’s disposal for rebuilding this roster in the absolute shortest time possible.
I have already covered why I think the Eagles should transition to a 34, seen here as part of the latest round table discussion on BGN, so let’s focus more on DeMeco’s individual involvement in this equation and the reasons behind my premise.
Reason 1 – DeMeco isn't getting any younger. He’ll be 29 in July and while he hasn't shown any obvious signs of getting older and slower, it’s inevitable that he eventually will. And that is going to affect his ability to produce on the field. It always does.
Now his decline could be later rather than sooner, but unless you have a crystal ball, we don’t know. I opine that it would be better for us to trade him now before he declines then trying to do so while he is declining, or even worse, after he has declined.
Reason 2 – DeMeco can be cut or traded right now and we would absorb zero dead money on our cap. This is extremely important when you factor in some of the other contracts that Eagles defenders are signed to and have significantly less flexibility with. The fact is that he is probably the only older Eagles defender who can be moved during this off-season. At least, he’s the only one who can be moved in a deal that won’t be considered a straight salary dump and/or bring back anything of value.
While DeMeco’s contract isn't egregious, it does have quasi-significant money left on it from the standpoint of years remaining and cumulative amount; 2013 $6.6M, 2014 $6.8M and 2015 $6.8M. While he won’t be considered the most cost efficient MLB with this contract, it also isn't so bad as to preclude another team from being able to absorb it, especially while he is still a productive MLB. And especially for a team that sees itself as being a MLB short of serious SB contention.
Reason #3 – DeMeco is going to have to be replaced at some point in the future, why not try to do so right after a 4-12 season that is prompting a massive roster rebuild. Let’s be honest, it is highly improbable that this team is going to be a contender next year and will most likely experience some growing pains in year 1 under new HC Chip Kelly. I think the absolute best case scenario for next year would be 8-8, with or without DeMeco at MLB. More likely, we are looking at another losing record and in my mind, that renders having DeMeco on this defense as unnecessary.
Is losing DeMeco and his production going to make that big of a difference on this defense and the overall success of the team next year? In my opinion, no, it probably won’t. And maybe not at all if we use a high pick on a guy who can step in right away. While Big Red preferred not to use high picks on LBs, at least not on successful LBs (zing!), we don’t know what Chip Kelly and his hand-picked DC will prefer. For all we know, they could make drafting the next Patrick Willis to pair next to Kendricks as their #1 draft priority. Quick side-note, this would make me extremely happy.
To me, the most important factor is we would be selling on DeMeco when he is at his highest value and is worth enough to theoretically bring back something of significant value. We essentially traded a later 3rd round pick for him (a 4th and traded 11 spots in the 3rd), and that was coming off arguably the worst year of his career. He just played 16 games as a 3 down LB and showed that he is still an effective MLB and particularly in a 43.
Using some quick guesstimation abilities, I would bet that we might be able to obtain a late 2nd rounder, but more likely an early 3rd rounder for him right now. And a pick in that range is this draft could be significant. A lot of the draft experts that I read are on the record as saying that the strongest part of this draft is in the 2nd to 3rd rounds. Prospects in the 70-80 range aren't significantly worse than the prospects in the 50 range, who aren't significantly worse than the perceived late 1st rounders. It is conceivable that we could add a solid prospect in that range.
In conclusion, while trading DeMeco may have a small negative effect on our defense and the team’s overall record in 2013, it would best suit this organization in the long term to move him while they can still get a significant asset in return at a time when a large portion of the roster requires rebuilding and during a year when the team will most likely not be a playoff contender.
Thanks for reading. As always, time's yours. Have a great day and a better tomorrow!