Philadelphia Eagles inside linebacker and locker room leader DeMeco Ryans is scheduled to make $6.8 million in 2014, which is seventh among linebackers (third among inside linebackers) in base salary. The veteran linebacker, who turns 30 in July, has helped transition a young Eagles defense from a 4-3 to the 3-4 but still isn’t guaranteed a roster spot next season. Depending on your preference of passing the “eye test” to proven analytical databases like Pro Football Focus, the two tell very different stories of Ryans’ 2013 campaign. Statistically, Ryans put up numbers that aren’t bad in any phase, totaling 127 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions while staying healthy through all sixteen games. However, in PFF’s grades following the season, Ryans was graded as the 54th best linebacker out of the 55 who qualified.
The primary option among fans and media alike is to offer him a pay cut, which sounds great in theory but remains a two-sided coin. What if Ryans doesn’t feel like taking less money is an option? The Eagles have four clear holes on defense (both safeties, outside linebacker, cornerback) and other spots that aren’t untouchable on the defensive line. If Ryans doesn’t stand for losing money to remain an Eagle, which he may feel is a perfectly reasonable decision, the Eagles have two choices: suck it up and pay him, or create another major hole on defense by releasing or attempting to trade him. Mychal Kendricks wasn’t terrible last year at all, but is still missing tackles that a reliable inside linebacker should make. The difference is that Kendricks is young, can still improve and on his rookie contract, whereas you know what you’ll get at this point with Ryans for better or worse.
I don’t believe in over-thinking things too much when it comes to football and personnel. There’s no guarantee the Eagles are in a position to draft Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley in the first round (even if they were, there’s assuredly a player who the team could use more), and spending a third or fourth round pick on a player like Florida State’s Christian Jones could be viable but makes the need for immediate contribution even more important. The team doesn’t need to put themselves in a spot like when former Eagles head coach Andy Reid decided to put 2011 fourth-round pick Casey Matthews in as a day one starter. DeMeco Ryans is the best option at inside linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles right now. His price tag might be higher than preferred, but the last thing the Eagles defense needs right now is another hole to fill.