DeMeco Ryans was the Houston Texans' defensive captain and, as teammate J.J. Watt said on the NFL Network Tuesday night, "far and away the most respected guy on our defense, our leader."
Ryans was also a terrible fit in the 3-4 defense that Wade Phillips implemented last season -- the Houston Chronicle's John McClain, who first reported Ryans' trade to Philadelphia for a fourth-round draft pick and swap of third-rounders, pointed out that Ryans' role was "diminished" and he was "removed every time the Texans went to their nickel defense," a frequent occurrence in a pass-happy season.
With a $5.9 million base salary this season, Ryans' expense outweighed his intangible qualities. But for the Eagles, he's well worth the money.
Philadelphia badly needed a reliable tackler to anchor its 4-3 defense. The importance of having a steady hand at middle linebacker cannot be understated, especially for the Eagles, who famously used the "wide-nine" technique up front, meaning more and more offenses ran between the tackles against them.
The Eagles are betting that Ryans continues to be a leader in Philadelphia, and that he regains his pre-2010 form.
Ryans tore his Achilles six games into the 2010 season, and that recovery did not help his '11 transition into a new defense. Before his injury, though, Ryans was one of the best young linebackers in football. He averaged 129.5 tackles over his first four seasons, including a 155-tackle effort in 2006 that earned him the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
If Philadelphia is getting that Demeco Ryans, this trade could go down as one of the franchise's best.
As for Houston, the most damage the trade causes is from an emotional standpoint. Several of the team's players took to Twitter when news of the move broke Tuesday night:
@awexler seriously? Meco too??
I wouldn't be half the player or person I am today without @DRyans59 this one hurts. Philly got a unbelievable player and leader today. #59
When folks talk about the NFL being a business, this is the type of scenario they're discussing. While the Texans will still count Ryans' prorated signing bonus from 2010 on their salary cap this year, they'll clear what would have been about a $9 million cap hit next season.
That's key, because the Texans have a number of young players they'd like to get re-signed to long-term deals, like Brian Cushing and Duane Brown.
But in the immediate future, this trade will serve as a test for the Texans. Remember, it comes on the heels of Houston cutting offensive tackle Eric Winston (who had started all 80 games over the past five seasons) and losing Mario Williams via free agency to Buffalo.
Even if the Texans can find a better fit than Ryans (Darryl Sharpton is a candidate), replace Winston and pick up on the defensive success they had last year with Williams out of the lineup, they might struggle to get over the mental and emotional hurdles all these subtractions will cause.
Houston's loss, though, is Philadelphia's gain, in the case of Ryans.
On top of adding a veteran voice to the Eagles' locker room, a healthy Ryans could be the missing piece for a defense that was a disappointment in 2011. Philadelphia has been quiet thus far in free agency, but Tuesday's trade brought in more value at linebacker than any signing could have. This deal made sense for both sides, even if the Texans' players and fans are struggling to see that right now. And it is, without question, a major upgrade for the Eagles ... not to mention Ryans, who should find himself right at home back in a 4-3 defense.