Texans To Sign LB Jacob Phillips

The Texans did some linebacker work early in free agency, reuniting DeMeco Ryans with 49ers pupil Azeez Al-Shaair. More than a month later, the team is still doing work on its defensive second level.

What DeMeco Ryans could bring to the Raiders as their head coach?

Jacob Phillips came in for a workout earlier today, KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson notes, and ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter indicates that the parties have a deal in place. After four seasons in Cleveland, Phillips will make his way to Houston on a one-year deal. Phillips found his way to the Browns in 2020 thanks to a trade that sent running back Duke Johnson to the Texans. Now, four years later, that pick comes back to Houston.

Browns LB Jacob Phillips preparing for return from IR

As a third-round pick out of LSU, Phillips never quite panned out with Cleveland. Injuries were the primary factor for Phillips’ struggles throughout his rookie deal. Phillips missed seven games in his rookie season, 13 games in his sophomore campaign, and the last 10 games of the 2022 season before missing all of 2023. Out of a possible 67 career regular season games, Phillips has only appeared in 20, making eight starts.

Whether COVID-19 or a knee injury in 2020, a torn biceps muscle in 2021, a torn left pectoral muscle in 2022, or the torn right pectoral muscle that sidelined him for all of last year, Phillips’ struggles to stay on the gridiron have been unprecedented. Still, his ability to find his way into the starting lineup in the short windows when he’s healthy just shows the potential that lies in Phillips’ game.

While the Browns never got to see that potential fully develop and blossom, the Texans are hoping they’ll get to see it in 2024. Phillips will come to a Houston team that lost two starters at the position when Blake Cashman departed for Minnesota and Denzel Perryman returned to Los Angeles. Henry To’oTo’o, the only backup linebacker to see significant time on the defense as a rookie in 2023, is set to fill one of the starting spots alongside side returning starter Christian Harris.

The former 49er and Ryans disciple, Al-Shaair, was signed back in March to compete for the other starting spot. In a one-year deal with the Titans last year, Al-Shaair started every game of the season for the first time in his career and set a career high with an impressive 163 total tackles, good for fifth in the NFL in 2023.

With the starting lineup in 2024 assumed to be Harris, Al-Shaair, and To’oTo’o, Phillips will come in with less pressure to deliver right away. If healthy, Phillips could fill in To’oTo’o’s role from last year as the first man off the bench at the position in occasions of injury replacement or rotation. He’ll compete with fellow free agent addition Del’Shawn Phillips for that role. Phillips served a similar role with the Ravens over the last four years while also being a core special teamer in Baltimore.

It’s the start of a new opportunity for Phillips in Houston. After an injury-riddled start to his career, the 25-year-old has a chance to make an impact off the bench for the Texans without the pressure to do so right away. He’ll also embark on this journey with one of the league’s premier defensive minds as his head coach.

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