Unfortunate injuries in the middle of a season have the strangest way of spurring action in NFL teams. A day after it was announced that Eagles running back Jay Ajayi tore his ACL in a defeat to the Vikings on Sunday, Philadelphia has been involved in nothing but trade rumors involving potentially available running backs around the league.
First there was the Bills’ LeSean McCoy. Then the Seahawks’ C.J. Prosise. In a somewhat surprising turn of events (depending on how you align), Clayton Football’s John Clayton reports that the Eagles have moderate interest in acquiring the Bears’ Jordan Howard to fill their running back void.
In his full appearance on 94WIP in Philadelphia, Clayton detailed exactly why Howard might be a fit in Philadelphia and why the Bears would be inclined to move on.
“Jordan Howard in Chicago all of a sudden, he’s losing playing time to Tarik Cohen, because they want the smaller type of quick back to go in that quick type of offense,” Clayton said. “You’d like to have that nice one-two punch and Jordan Howard I think is one of the top 10 running backs in the league. I know that there seems to have been trade conversations earlier about him, maybe not initiated by the Bears, but that to me could be the sleeper one in the group, because he’s a really good back and I think he could fit this offense.”
Clayton’s assertion about Howard’s lack of playing time is interesting because it comes on the heels after a Monday where the Bears’ Matt Nagy discussed Howard’s lack of traction thus far in 2018.
“Jordan Howard is a big part of this offense,” said Nagy in defense of the third-year running back. Nagy’s words don’t match up with Howard’s actual usage through a month of play.
Howard’s current 64 carries through four games puts him on pace for 256 attempts over a 16-game season. That’s four less than the veteran back’s rookie year in 2016 where didn’t start the first three games. Those 64 attempts would also only have Howard ranked 12th in the NFL in rushing attempts, tied with sterling names like Seattle’s Chris Carson.
Even more so than actual attempts, it’s been about how the Bears have neglected to use Howard in key moments. Nagy insisted that it’s all part of how a game-plan shakes out in regards to Howard’s early play, but is that something that carries over through an entire month? Against the Packers, Chicago regularly ignored Howard in key third-and-short situations late. The following weeks with the Seahawks and Cardinals showcased a lackadaisically focused effort to lean on the bell cow. And in the midst of the Bears’ 48-10 blowout of the Buccaneers before the bye week, Howard was a complete, non-existent factor.
All of this has translated to by far a career low 50.8 rushing yards-per-game and paltry 3.2 yards per-carry for Howard. Those are especially low figures for a man that averaged 76 yards-per-game and 4.5 yards-per-carry in 2016 and 2017 combined. Factor in Howard’s well-noted lack of dynamic receiving ability - though he has been good in a small sample size in 2018 - and a deal based off of pure logistics would make sense for both the Bears and Eagles. Remember this is a player that was discussed in previous trade talks with the Dolphins, by the reputable John Mullin of NBC Sports Chicago in the off-season. Where’s there smoke, there is fire.
Think of a mid-round pick and that theoretically would be enough to snatch away Howard to Philadelphia given the devalued position of running back in pro football.
From a sensible standpoint, it doesn’t make sense this late into 2018 for the Bears to move on from Howard in a year where they might be the best team in the NFC North. If they were going to swing a deal, it should’ve been in the off-season. Backs of his ilk, running backs in general actually, are more easily replaceable than just about every position in the NFL. But Chicago wouldn’t be able to do so until the 2019 NFL Draft. Trading Howard means a greater reliance on Tarik Cohen as a feature back, and using more of Benny Cunningham: not an ideal scenario for a budding offense.
Note: the NFL trade deadline falls on October 30th this year.
There’s no denying that if the Bears can swing a decent deal for a running back like Howard that they’re very likely not going to extend on a massive contract after his four-year rookie contract his up, they should. That move would have to be made in the midst of keeping a promising 2018 campaign properly afloat.
Robert is the Editor-in-chief of The Blitz Network (subscribe here!), the managing editor of Windy City Gridiron, and writes for a host of other fine publications. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.