Okay, this one I didn't totally see coming.
After a somewhat tumultuous one-week period that saw the Texans lose outside linebacker Mario Williams and guard Mike Brisiel to free agency, and cut offensive tackle Eric Winston as a cap casualty, the Texans decided to shed more salary yesterday afternoon, this time opting for a trade as they sent inside linebacker and defensive captain DeMeco Ryans to the Philadelphia Eagles for a fourth round choice in next month's draft. (The teams also swapped third round picks, resulting in the Texans moving up from the 90th pick to the 77th pick.)
There are players that teams like, there are players that teams love, and then there's that exclusive strata of player who evolve into a big chunk of a team's collective soul.
For the Texans, that guy was DeMeco Ryans.
As the second round pick of the Texans' vaunted 2006 draft class, Ryans burst onto the scene with 155 tackles his rookie season, taking away Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in fairly convincing fashion. Over the next three years, he would make the Pro Bowl twice and eventually the Texans rewarded him with a six-year, $48 million contract extension ($21.75 million guaranteed).
At the time of the extension, I compared DeMeco Ryans to Dwight Shrute of The Office insomuch as when The Office was subpar, you could still count on the Dwight Shrute character to bring a Grade A performance. That's what Ryans was for the Texans defense from 2006 through 2009 -- even in the bad times, you still knew that number 59 would produce:
Here in Houston, we're fired up about the DeMeco signing, and with DeMeco having been to a couple Pro Bowls now, this moves the meter nationally for the Texans; also, It's not ultra-sexy, but it's a sign that the core players want to play here and that management, when it makes sense, will pay for production. You have to follow the Texans week to week to know what DeMeco means to this team and the defense. He's a little like Dwight Shrute that way; if you watch The Office, you know what I mean. Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) is the face on the marquee, but also the one with the lowest floor and highest ceiling and the one who frankly makes us most uncomfortable defending his actions. Michael Scott is Mario Williams. Andy "Nard Dog" Bernard is fantastic, but he wasn't here in the beginning so our bond with him doesn't run quite as deep. Brian Cushing is the Nard Dog.
But Dwight Shrute brings it week in and week out. When The Office is bad, and it has been way too often in the last couple years, it's because the Michael Scott character has been a little uneven or because we're just fed up with being force-fed Jim and Pam (oh, Jim and Pam are Dunta Robinson, did I mention that?). Nard Dog is amazing, but he wasn't here during the beginning, we haven't quite fully invested in him yet. But Dwight...even during bad episodes we come away saying "Yeah but, Dwight Shrute was still hilarious." Shrute is the unsung glue holding together that ball of dysfunction known as Dunder Mifflin. And for four years, Ryans has been the Texans' Dwight Shrute.
2010 is when things started to go sideways for Ryans as he sustained a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 6, and physically never really looked like the same player he was before the injury until late in the 2011 season. On top of that, Ryans was never a great fit for Wade Phillips' 3-4 defensive scheme as he often came off the field on third down.
The thumping middle linebacker that the Texans had signed to that lucrative extension had devolved in the new system to a somewhat limited, very expensive, two-down specialist.
Still, while Ryans' playing time waned, the respect from his peers did not, and that was very evident yesterday on Twitter as his now former teammates all took to social media to express their sadness/disgust about the trade:
Owen Daniels (@owendaniels): "Seriously? Meco too?"
Brian Cushing (@briancushing56): "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″
Glover Quin (gloverquin29): "Honored to have had the chance to play with and learn from @DRyans59.. True leader and great person... Preciate you bro."
Eric Winston (@ericwinston to Owen Daniels): "Watch you(r) back kid. @owendaniels you're the last '06 guy left."
On top of that, the Texans did something unprecedented (for them, at least) last night as general manager Rick Smith actually issued what amounted to a thank you statement to a player he had just traded:
DeMeco Ryans contributed significantly toward helping us build the foundation we hope will bring a world championship to the city of Houston. His professionalism and leadership cannot be over-exaggerated. This move was mutually beneficial for the Texans immediate and long-term goals, DeMeco's career, and the Philadelphia Eagles. We appreciate all the hard work and effort DeMeco invested in our organization and wish him only the best moving forward. He is a class act.
In actuality, Smith's assessment of the trade for all sides involved is spot on. The Texans, still in desperate need of salary cap space, were not getting their nearly $6 million worth out of DeMeco Ryans, and Philadelphia was in desperate need of a solid tackler in the middle of their defense (where the "wide nine" formation they use exposes them to lots of running between the tackles). On the field, this is a win-win.
The tougher part to quantify is the emotional effect this deal will have on the Texans, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. It's often said that you can't put a price on leadership, but this deal essentially did that.
The price for DeMeco Ryans' leadership would have been $19.3 million over the next three years, and for the Texans that was just too much.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.