The Texans took another step towards the large contracts they'll need to hand out to re-sign Connor Barwin and Duane Brown last Tuesday as they sent DeMeco Ryans to the Philadelphia Eagles for an exchange in third-round picks and Tampa Bay's fourth-round pick.
Once I got over the usual disgust I have over these scenarios (long-time stalwart gets deserved contract, gets hurt, is no longer worth said contract, has to go), I have to say I think this is a pretty solid trade for the Texans. As the NFL continues to tilt towards passing, a two-down linebacker getting paid the salary that Ryans was making is a complete luxury. Is there a chance that Ryans could recover more of his range next year, after he's further past his Achilles' injury? Sure. (In fact, somewhere on this site, there's a study about this ... by DreKeem? What's a DreKeem?) But if there was any doubt in Rick Smith's mind about that, this was absolutely a move that he had to make.
Because of the NFL's arcane cap rules, trading Ryans actually doesn't free up much (any?) space this season. The value of getting rid of his contract comes in making sure that the 2013 offseason isn't a repeat of the 2012 offseason. With $9 million freed up on next year's cap, the Texans should be able to make the money work with Barwin and Brown. Brown, in particular, has been deserving of a monster extension for at least two years running. It'll be interesting to see when exactly the Texans engage those two on contract talks -- and remember, after them, Brian Cushing is next in line.
Replacing the 2011 version of DeMeco Ryans on the field probably won't be very hard. Darryl Sharpton was starting to eat into his snaps a bit before his season-ending quadriceps tear. To be honest, I thought there was little dropoff with Tim Dobbins in the lineup as well. It would be nice if there was a magical world where we could see how the 2008 Ryans did in this defense, but that was never to be.
I've heard a few people talk about the return as meaningless, but a fourth-round pick can be very handy. If you look at the makeup of the draft, there are routinely 250 picks or so, which means on average there are about 25-30 compensation picks. However, the vast majority of those compensation picks start to be handed out at the end of the fourth round, increasing the relative value of those fourth-rounders. Rick Smith's draft history shows that he's quite fond of picks in that slot: he accumulated an extra fourth-rounder in 2009 and 2010. Given how often the Texans have targeted tight ends in this round, it's tempting to just smirk and say "that's where the next one comes from," but the Texans have all sorts of depth issues that they could address with that pick, and adding another cheap rookie contract is always a smart move.
My only real problem with the trade is that it sets a precedent I'm a little uncomfortable with: that the team won't show loyalty to those who show it loyalty. Ryans was a consumate professional, never whined about his contract, and played some damn good football for the first three-and-a-half seasons of his career. He was active in the community, he was an extremely smart player, and he gave the Texans all that he had.
But that's the way that the NFL works, particularly when you have to import multiple high-priced free agents to fill gaping holes. We often think about Antonio Smith's and Johnathan Joseph's as the happy endings to big problems, but they actually fix a problem now and add a problem later. Ideally, you'd have enough cap space to keep superstars and heady vets like Ryans alike. Of course, ideally your team wouldn't have inherited a completely vacant roster from Charley Casserly, either. The draft is the lifeblood of any franchise, and any mistake there can continue to be felt years down the road. DeMeco is just the latest tremor in a long line of them.
It sucks, as a fan. It just sucks. But this is still a good football move given the circumstances.