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Frankie Luvu could be DeMeco Ryans’ dream linebacker

Any discussion about the Houston Texans’ upcoming free agency discussion starts with the words that DeMeco Ryans left the media with to conclude his final press conference of the 2023 season.

“You have to invest the resources there up front, so that’s what we’ll do. That’s where our focus is heading into the offseason is to make sure our front gives us an opportunity to win some games.”

It should be no surprise the former linebacker has a personal focus on improving the Texans’ front seven. It was a huge part of their downfall against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional Round and nearly cost them their playoff berth against the Indianapolis Colts during Week 18 when Jonathan Taylor exploded.

The defensive front includes the down defensive linemen but it also includes the linebackers. Much has been made of Houston’s potential investments in the front four, especially with the status of free agent Jonathan Greenard in limbo, but that discussion often misses the importance of the linebackers to this equation.

Houston isn’t exactly set there either.

Christian Harris had a breakout season in his second year with 104 tackles and two sacks, not to mention an incredible pick-six in the playoffs against the Cleveland Browns. He is considered a budding star at the position but who his running mates will be is uncertain. Veteran Blake Cashman had 104 tackles and Denzel Perryman had 76, with both players playing over 50% of Houston’s regular season snaps. However, both are free agents entering the off-season and it leaves a huge gap for Houston’s defense. It’s a logical question of who they’ll pair alongside Christian Harris to elevate the defense.

If general manager Nick Caserio and DeMeco Ryans want to put their money where their mouth is, there are some excellent options on the free agent market. Furthermore, the best fit may be found if they examine their loss in Charlotte, North Carolina this past season.

Linebacker Frankie Luvu was a nightmare for the Texans. He’s also about to hit the market.

After transitioning from an edge rusher role to a true inside linebacker after signing with the Carolina Panthers in 2021, Luvu’s career has exploded the past two years. Starring in a 4-3 scheme akin to Houston in 2022, Luvu had 111 total tackles, 7 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. This past year, even transitioning to a 3-4 scheme under Ejiro Evero and with the team struggling, Luvu still found his way to 125 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. He even wore the green dot while piloting the Panthers defense.

It’s ludicrous production for an inside linebacker and represents just the kind of versatility that Houston may be searching for

His coverage grade of 64.9 per PFF in 2023 was a career high and represents a huge upgrade from Perryman who ranked in at 46.0 and was frequently abused by defenses last season. However, he still represents the same level of run defense with a grade of 74.0 against the run and 90.1 when blitzing.

In a way, Luvu is a summation of the best parts of Perryman and Cashman. A run thumper that isn’t a liability in coverage – with the added dimension of attacking the quarterback.

His ability to blitz is something that neither player brought to the table in 2023, with that responsibility usually left to Christian Harris, and it could add a new dimension to the defense. Not only would Luvu need to be accounted for in protection schemes but it would also create a degree of difficulty as to when and from where Ryans and defensive coordinator Matt Burke would bring heavier blitzes.

The fit would be natural next to Harris. He started 13 games last season at middle linebacker for the Carolina Panthers and would slide into that same role for Houston. It allows Ryans to keep Harris at the weakside linebacker spot and to continue to utilize Harris’s special athleticism at that position. Meanwhile, Luvu could even assume green dot responsibilities and would have the ability to spy, blitz, cover or crush the run while Harris is freed to be a star.

There’s one big question for Houston with this acquisition: What’s the cost?

Luvu is expected to command somewhere between $10-11M APY and it would represent a huge investment of the linebacker position. If the reason they move on from Cashman is due to cost, it would be hard to imagine they decide this is where they want to spend big dollars.

However, if Houston is as serious about improving their front seven as they’ve preached, this investment would easily be worth it. Luvu’s contributions to the running game, versatility with blitzes, and overall reliability in coverage would represent a next level investment alongside Harris.

It could give Houston one of the best linebacker duos in football.

Ryans was once himself a former all-pro at the linebacker position and it would be amazing to watch him deploy and create havoc with two players of this caliber. He’ll have to work alongside Caserio to decide what type of investment the team is willing to make if they want to put another star alongside No. 48.

Story originally appeared on Texans Wire