Jordan Howard could have preempted much talk radio hand-wringing, could have saved Eagles fans quite a bit of angst.
“I pretty much knew they were going to be my landing spot,” Howard said of the Eagles Monday at an introductory NovaCare news conference. “I wasn’t really surprised” to be traded. “I knew something was going to happen.”
Asked how long he had known this, Howard said: "Probably for like a month."
Howard, whose 3,370 rushing yards over the past three NFL seasons trail only Ezekiel Elliott (4,048) and Todd Gurley (3,441), was rumored to be headed out of Chicago before the Eagles eliminated the Bears from the wild-card round of the playoffs. He wasn’t considered a great fit for head coach Matt Nagy’s offense.
Howard said the trading block was a lonely place to linger.
“I was getting tired of everybody hitting me up about, like, ‘Are you being traded?’ ‘How do you feel about this?’ So I was definitely relieved,” he said, when the deal for a conditional 2020 draft pick was announced on Friday.
The Eagles were often mentioned as a potential destination, mostly because the 2016 draft, in which Howard was a Bears fifth-round selection, was the last thing Joe Douglas did there before coming to Philadelphia as player personnel vice president. But the trade hardly seemed inevitable; for one thing, the Eagles were closely linked to running back Tevin Coleman before the Atlanta free agent signed in San Francisco.
But Howard said his agent, Adisa Bakari, told him he would be an Eagle. Interestingly enough, Bakari also represents Coleman. After Coleman didn’t become an Eagle and no other free agent move was immediately forthcoming, some fans obsessed over whether Howie Roseman respected the running back position enough.
Howard is listed at 6 feet, 224 pounds and ought to be able to provide the inside running push Eagles fans value.
“Rugged, physical. Definitely setting the tone,” he said, when asked to describe his running style. “I feel like I’m a blue-collar player and I feel like this is a blue-collar city.”
Howard said he met with Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley before that 2016 draft, in which the Bears took Howard three slots before the Eagles drafted Wendell Smallwood.
“I heard he was a pretty good pass protector,” Howard said of Staley. “I take pride in protecting the quarterback as well.”
Pro Football Focus gave Howard a 98.7 grade in pass blocking efficiency last season, a better mark than it gave any Eagles back.
The Bears didn’t consider Howard a dynamic back, and his role in the offense began to decline almost from the arrival of 2017 draftee Tarik Cohen. Howard said Monday he had no explanation for that or for why his yards per carry declined each season, from 5.2 to 4.1 to 3.7.
“They made a decision, they wanted to move on. I can’t be mad at that or have hard feelings about that,” he said.
“My first two years I struggled to catch the ball. I admit that. But last year I worked on it a lot. I didn’t drop any passes [catching 20 for 145 yards]. I wasn’t really featured. I don’t really know why.”
Howard did offer that his Pro Bowl rookie season – 252 carries for 1,313 yards – came when “a lot of teams, they didn’t know who I was, so they didn’t really scout me and prepare for me that well.”
That year, “I had a lot of success, but we only won three games,” he said.
Howard, entering the final season of his rookie contract, said he hasn’t talked to any coaches about his role. The Eagles still could draft a running back this year. They have Corey Clement rehabbing a torn ACL, 2018 undrafted rookie Josh Adams, and Smallwood. More to the point, no running back is ever going to pile up a ton of carries in Doug Pederson’s offense.
Asked if he needs work to get into a rhythm, Howard said: “I feel like every running back needs a few touches early in the game, just to get a feel of the game. I’m just coming here to play whatever role they need me to help the team win games.”
Howard played at Indiana with backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld, and in Chicago with Alshon Jeffery. He said he visited with Jeffery Sunday night, and that Sudfeld and Jeffery “just tell me I’m going to love it here, it’s different from Chicago, but I’m definitely going to love it ... So many options, it’s definitely going to be hard to stop us.”
Howard said he has a definite impression of the Eagles, who have held him to 63 yards on 20 carries in three meetings, including this past season’s playoff game.
“Just hungry, just dogs,” he said. “Just like the fans, the culture is just like, a hungry franchise … I’m definitely glad to not be playing against the Eagles, because I haven’t had any success against them.”
Did Howard study up on his new team, while he was waiting for the trade?