THE EAGLES gained some cap room yesterday by restructuring and extending inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans' contract through 2016, a move that indicates the return of the team's defensive leader from Achilles' surgery is going well.
They also touched off a wave of speculation over the future of the other 2014 starting inside linebacker, Mychal Kendricks.
A source close to the situation said Ryans, who was entering the final year of his original deal, will get up to $10.5 million over the next two seasons, with $6.25 million guaranteed. He will make $4 million this year, with $2 million of it signing bonus, which will be amortized over 2 years, so Ryans' cap number will drop from $6.9 million to $3 million. The source said $2.25 million is guaranteed for injury in 2016, becoming fully guaranteed on the third day of the new league year next March.
Speaking on Comcast SportsNet's "Philly Sports Talk" yesterday evening, Ryans acknowledged that he is "very fortunate" to get this extension, as he approaches his 31st birthday in July, having now torn both Achilles', the left in 2010 and the right in 2014.
"A veteran guy coming off of injury, a lot of times it's not in our favor," Ryans said.
Ryans, the player Eagles coach Chip Kelly called "Mufasa" when he went down Nov. 2 at Houston, said he has started running and has had no setbacks.
Ostensibly, there is no reason whatsoever to think the Eagles want to trade Kendricks. He is 24 and was one of their top three defensive players last season, along with Fletcher Cox and Connor Barwin. He took more of a leadership role when Ryans went down and seemed to handle it well.
Initial speculation seemed particularly clueless - people deciding on their own that because the Eagles acquired inside linebacker Kiko Alonso, who is coming off ACL surgery, they must want to trade Kendricks, because now they have three starting-quality inside linebackers, including Ryans, and only two can start. Never mind that when Kendricks and backup Najee Goode both got hurt last season, the team tried every idea short of switching practice-squad quarterback G.J. Kinne to defense, just to have enough inside linebackers to get through games. And there's also the fact that neither Ryans nor Alonso is ready to play right now; we don't know that they'll be 100 percent by September.
But we all know Kelly has his own ideas about things - at the end of the season, who foresaw DeMarco Murray replacing LeSean McCoy? - and when Kelly spoke last week at the NFL meetings, he did little to quash speculation about Kendricks. Kelly gave a nod toward the need for depth, but he seemed miffed that Kendricks had missed 4 weeks with a torn calf muscle.
"I think DeMeco missed eight [games] and Mychal missed four. So it was really getting depth at our inside linebackers, getting more players. It was something that we were really striving to get accomplished in the offseason," Kelly said. "When [Kendricks] was healthy, he played really well for us. But we missed him for four games. And the health aspect was a difficult thing. We were a different team without him on the field. But when he played, he played really well for us."
Kendricks, the Eagles' second-round selection, 46th overall, in 2012, never missed a game in college at California and missed only two his first two seasons with the Birds. He is entering the final season of his rookie contract. It is possible the team has gotten an indication that signing him might be difficult. Kendricks was very disappointed to not make the Pro Bowl, despite missing all that time with injury, and he said he thought he'd played as well as any linebacker in the league.