The Eagles on Thursday acquired running back Jordan Howard from the Chicago Bears for a 2020 draft pick.
The draft pick is a sixth-rounder that could become a fifth-rounder, according to a league source.
Here’s what our Eagles writers think of the deal.
As is often the case with Eagles trades, it’s hard to quibble with the price. The Eagles get a proven lead back for a future sixth-round pick that can be a fifth if Howard does well.
It caught my attention right away that Howard has carried the ball 778 times the past three seasons and missed just one game. To an Eagles team that has seen more than enough medical intrigue the past few years, that is a very nice stat.
I do think there is a danger here of overselling Howard. His yards per carry with the Bears went from 5.2 to 4.1 to 3.7 over his three seasons. I think a healthy Jay Ajayi, something that currently doesn’t exist, is a more explosive runner. I’m sure other teams had the chance to trade for Howard, and the price he fetched shows what the league thought. But Howard is that short-yardage, goal-line answer fans have clamored for. You have to like 24 touchdowns in three years.
I still wouldn’t be surprised to see the Eagles draft a runner early. Howard is under contract only for this season, Corey Clement is coming off an ACL injury, and Josh Adams has a lot to prove after an up-and-down rookie year. But having Howard in the stable takes the pressure off the draft, and the draftee.
Let’s not overthink this one. The Eagles gave up late-round pick for a guy who has rushed for 3,370 yards and 24 touchdowns the last three years. What’s not to like there?
Yeah, I know Howard’s numbers have shrunk each year. And yeah, I know he’s not a three-down back. But neither was LeGarrette Blount, and he played an important role in the Eagles’ Super Bowl run two years ago.
With Blount in 2017, the Eagles averaged 4.72 yards per carry on first down. That was the second best first-down rush average in the league. Last year, they nose-dived to 25th, averaging just 4.14.
The bad news is one of the seven teams with a lower first-down rush average than the Eagles was Howard’s Bears. Howard averaged a career-low 3.73 yards per carry on first down last year, down from 4.27 in 2017 and an impressive 5.66 in his rookie season.
But he’s going to be running behind a better offensive line in Philly, and he’s not going to be averaging 17 carries a game as he did with the Bears.
Again, there’s little investment here. The Eagles got him for next to nothing. He has a low $2.1 million cap number. If he isn’t productive, he’ll be a free agent after the season, they’ll wave bye-bye, and they’ll probably get their money back in a comp pick.
Bringing him in is no different from the Blount signing. It will have no effect on their draft approach. I still expect them to add a more versatile running back on Day 2.
So what’s not to like?
The Eagles gave up very little to get Howard: a 2020 sixth-round pick that could become a fifth-rounder. On the surface, that’s a lopsided trade for a running back who rushed for more than 3,000 yards and scored 24 touchdowns over the last three years. But you have to wonder why the Bears were willing to unload Howard for virtually nothing.
Clearly, they were otherwise prepared to release him. But why? If Matt Nagy couldn’t find a way to utilize Howard in his scheme, which has some similarities to the Eagles offense, how can Doug Pederson? I’m not sure if that alone was the reason Chicago unloaded the 24-year-old running back, who is entering the last year of his rookie contract. There has been some question about work ethic and a weight that has fluctuated.
Maybe all Howard needs is a change of scenery to return to the tailback he was as a rookie, when he rushed for 1,313 yards. But his decline in production — from 5.2 to 4.1 to 3.7 yards a carry over the last three seasons — is a cause for concern.
I also view his addition through the lens of whom the Eagles didn’t get this offseason. They had identified Tevin Coleman as a target, but for some reason were unable to reel him in, even though he signed for only two years and $8.5 million. Coleman’s first-year salary ($3.6 million) isn’t that significant in comparison to Howard’s ($2.1 million), and he’s a more electric runner.
If Howard can be productive on first and second downs, the trade will be a success. On paper, he’s an upgrade over Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams. He’s a solid short-yardage runner, and he has a nose for the end zone. But Howard isn’t fast and doesn’t offer much as a pass catcher. He’s not the dynamic running back I felt the Eagles needed to acquire this offseason. I’ll withhold final judgment on the trade, however, because a multi-purpose back can still be added in the draft.
Of course, selecting a running back in the draft doesn’t necessarily mean the Eagles will fill that need. It only makes it more imperative that they don’t make the same mistakes they’ve made over the last decade in terms of prospect evaluation.
I’m not here writing that the Eagles acquired an elite running back, but they found a definite upgrade at a low price. That’s a good move in my book.
Howard has been one of the NFL’s most productive running backs during the past three seasons. He has good size and can help the Eagles on early downs and short yardage. He’s also durable, missing only one game since entering the NFL. He’s 24 and under contract for one more season at $2.025 million, and it cost the Eagles either a sixth-round pick or fifth-round pick in 2020.
So the Eagles didn’t need to allocate significant cap space, surrender a draft pick this year, or even compromise a compensatory pick next year. I’ll give them credit there.
The flip side is Howard’s production has declined in recent years, and he was one of only three of the NFL’s top 20 rushers last year with fewer than 4 yards per carry (3.7). He’s not dynamic in the passing game. And Matt Nagy, an innovative offensive mind who came from the Andy Reid tree, didn’t seem to want him for that offense. All this must be considered.
But here’s why those realities don’t sour me on the move: The Eagles don’t necessarily need Howard to be a bell-cow running back, and he’s better than what’s on the roster and perhaps even what’s on the market. In Doug Pederson’s 53 games (regular season and postseason), he’s had only four games with a running back who had at least 20 carries and seven games with a running back who had at least 17 carries. Howard had at least 250 carries in all three seasons.
The most by an Eagles running back during the past three seasons was LeGarrette Blount’s 173 in 2017. You can say that was dictated by personnel, but the Eagles didn’t even ride Jay Ajayi throughout the game in the playoffs two seasons ago — they mixed in Corey Clement and Blount.