Offseason Outlook: Inside Linebackers
This week, we’ll continue to offer offseason outlooks for the Eagles, position-by-position. Each day, we’ll answer a pressing question and rank the position on the priority scale. First up was quarterback. We covered running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line and outside linebackers. Now let’s tackle inside linebackers.
PRESSING QUESTION: What does the future hold for DeMeco Ryans?
Kapadia: We know the coaches love Ryans, and so do his teammates. The 29-year-old sets the tone in the locker room, gets everyone lined up correctly before the snap and is an effective player against the run.
We also know that Ryans is due $6.8M for the upcoming season. The problem is he’s not great against the pass – either in coverage or as a blitzer. And he was on the field for more snaps than any front-seven player in the league last year.
The guess here is that the Eagles will look to restructure Ryans’ deal and keep him around. What we don’t know right now is how the Howie Roseman/Chip Kelly regime feels about making sure the guys who are locker-room leaders stay happy. Clearly, they’ve tried to separate themselves from the Joe Banner mentality as much as possible.
How they handle the Ryans situation this offseason should provide some answers on their larger philosophy in dealing with veteran players.
McManus: I wouldn’t mess around with Ryans. If the Eagles were strapped for cash and in need of relief in order to make the team better in free agency, I get it. But they have some $20 million in cap space so it would be viewed as a move in the name of finances, not football.
Ryans is arguably the No. 1 leader on this team right now. He was the glue to a defense that overachieved big time. He led the Eagles with 177 tackles and added four sacks and two interceptions. What kind of argument could management try and sell that would convince Ryans — and his loyal peers — that he deserves to have his pay cut?
The veteran linebacker is scheduled to make $6.8 million this year and next, then will be a free agent after the 2015 season. If his production slips, maybe you approach him next offseason. But for now he’s at the center of your locker room and your defense, so you leave it alone.
PRIORITY SCALE: FROM 1 TO 5
* 1 indicates there is no need at all to address the position in free agency or the draft. 5 means it’s of the highest priority that the Eagles focus on the position in the coming months.
Kapadia: I’ll take a three on this one. The Eagles could very well go into next year with Ryans and Mychal Kendricks as their starting inside linebackers. In fact, I’d say that’s likely. At the backup spots, guys like Najee Goode and Jake Knott (in the preseason) showed some flashes.
But if you take a look at the snap counts from the Super Bowl, you’ll notice that the Seahawks had 18 different defensive players play at least 14 snaps. I think inside linebacker is another area where the Eagles could really benefit from more of a rotation. For example, in third-and-long situations, ideally they’d have an excellent cover linebacker on the field instead of Ryans.
For that reason, I think Roseman and company have to at least look at adding some guys with different skill sets at inside linebacker this offseason.
McManus: Put me down for a two. I agree that the Eagles could use some depth here, and I’m sure they’ll be on the lookout, but there are too many pressing needs elsewhere to make it a high priority.
Kendricks can be a star in this league. I really believe that. He’s only 23. If he can add some consistency to his game, look out. Ryans isn’t the long-term solution at the other ILB spot but for now, the pairing works. Emmanuel Acho, Goode, Casey Matthews, Knott and Jason Phillips will presumably be among those competing for a reserve role this summer. Other names will probably be added to the mix.
To your point, Sheil, I don’t see the third-and-long replacement for Ryans in the current group. It would be a nice luxury for Billy Davis to have.