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WCG Roundtable: Should the Bears Trade Jordan Howard?

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Windy City Gridiron attempts to answer whether or not the Bears should keep fan-favorite Jordan Howard as we head into the final year of his contract. In this final edition, we look at Howard’s value on the open market and whether or not the Bears would be better off trading him.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Introduction

Because the NFL is a business, the people who work inside it are constantly forced to make tough choices. Jordan Howard, a now 4th year runningback with 770+ carries under his belt, has been nothing but class throughout his time with the Chicago Bears. He’s cemented his place in Bears’ history and will forever be remembered as the only Bears RB ever to rush for over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons.

But is that enough to justify keeping him?

Now entering the final year of Jordan Howard’s rookie deal, Windy City Gridiron is set to continue exploring the future of the Bears’ star runningback. In part 1, we came to the conclusion that Howard has value but that his talents make him an imperfect for the ideal Nagy offense.

However, it doesn’t make sense to even consider moving Howard if we don’t know what we’re trading him for. So before we even consider shipping him out, let’s make sure we’re clear on what he’s worth.

What do you think is market value for a player like Howard this offseason? (in terms of $$$, draft capital, or both)

Erik Duerrwaechter: His value is higher for me than what others think. If we’re strictly talking trade value, then he’s worth at least a 4th round pick for teams in need of a power back, if not a combination of mid-to-late round picks. His 24 TDs and other totals for his first three years will be highlighted if he’s made available in the trade market. Again, that too is a big “if.”

In terms of potential contract salary, his rushing production ranks him towards the top among runningbacks, yet his limited production in the receiving game drops that value towards the middle of the league. He didn’t drop many, if any passes in 2018, which will help his cause. A fair contract value for him would be approximately $4.0 million per year when/if it comes time to re-sign him.

Jeff Berckes: I don’t think there will be reasonable draft capital available for Howard before the draft. I could see a draft day trade taking place if a team misses out on a back like Howard and decides to fill the need that way. I would be surprised to see a 4th round pick on offer and I’m not sure it’s worth moving on from him for anything less than a high 5throunder. The more likely scenario would be finding a team that has just made a coaching change who a) wants a back like Howard and b) is looking to change schemes that opens up valuable players that no longer fit in their new system. The Dolphins and Jets might be candidates.

Josh Sunderbruch: In terms of draft capital, the most valuable running back in the last five years was Jay Ajayi, who was traded mid-season with not quite two years on his rookie contract left, coming off of a Pro Bowl season. Ajayi was worth a 4th-rounder. Every other running back trade got less than that. Howard is not as versatile as Ajayi, his best year is a year farther in the past, and he’s only got one year left on his contact. If Pace managed to get a 5th-rounder for Howard, that would be some impressive work on his part. I don’t see it happening, but it would still be nice. After next year, I can see Howard managing a deal worth $3-4million/year once he has the freedom to negotiate a new contract.

Lester A. Wiltfong Jr.: I think a 5th or 6th round pick is all that the Bears could hope to receive for Howard. That’s just the nature of the position these days. Teams believe they can find a running back in the later rounds or as an undrafted free agent and get production from them. Sure there are players that go earlier in the draft, but this system has proven that it doesn’t need a first round talent to thrive.

But with Howard only under contract for one more season it may prove difficult to trade him.

Robert Schmitz: Howard occupies a unique spot in the market -- He’s got one year of cheap, bell-cow running left in him and works well in games where he’s able to run the ball a lot. This makes him a good fit for teams who either don’t have a QB or aren’t ready to feature their young QB just yet. At the cost of a 5th round pick I think he’s the perfect acquisition for a team in transition like the Broncos, Dolphins, or Jets.

As far as money goes, I think Howard is in a very tough spot. The league doesn’t value RBs at all right now, certainly not volume backs, but his numbers suggest he’s worth top RB money. I think this inevitably creates a sizable gap between teams and his agent, forcing him to wait a surprising 3-4 weeks from the start of FA before signing a deal worth ~4 million/year.

Ken Mitchell: Because Howard is a high mileage pouding back, he may realistically be about half way through his career. He has one cheap year left on his rookie deal, and he will come out of contract and get one huge payday (at age 25) and that’s going to be Jordan’s one chance to make his career money. The chances of him choosing to stay in Chicago and the Bears offering him big money are slim.

The thing is, the league knows this. His value is probably a 5th rounder.

WhiskeyRanger: General consensus is a 5th rounder, or equivalent. And that feels about right to me given his attributes, and the current running back market in the NFL.

Summary

We generally agree that Howard’s market value is somewhere between a 4th and 6th round pick, probably a 5th.

Identifying his value, of course, leads us directly into the ultimate Howard question:

If a team offered you said market value this offseason, would you trade him? If so, how would you go about replacing him?

Erik Duerrwaechter: I would have to be offered slightly above market value to consider trading Jordan Howard. It was rumored the Dolphins and Bears discussed a trade prior to the 2018 draft involving Jordan Howard and the 8th overall pick for Jarvis Landry and the 11th overall pick. Given my lack of picks available prior to the 3rd round, I’m at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating for a higher value. My asking price would be a 3rd round pick; 4th round pick w/ additional picks;1-for-1 involving a solid player in return; or any combination of the above. Essentially, I would have to be offered a deal I cannot refuse.

In terms of replacing Howard, I’m going to look at all my options. Yes, I suggest sniffing around Le’Veon Bell, as he would be the homerun signing that factors in as a final piece to a Super Bowl caliber roster. My campaign would be advertising the Bears as his best bet to reach the Super Bowl and be part of greatness. That signing; however, is highly unlikely. At present the Bears will be playing with anywhere between $25-35 million in cap space to begin the offseason. Teams like the Colts, Raiders, and Jets will have triple that amount to spend.

Bell is the only free agent I would truly consider worth serious cash. Latavius Murray would be a distant second. And even though Kareem Hunt is close to Matt Nagy and Mitchell Trubisky, a LOT would have to happen for me to remove him from my blacklist. Recent history has not been kind to teams searching for their answers in free agency when it comes to the running back position. I don’t see anyone aside from Bell who could produce the impact Thomas Jones had for the Bears way back in the mid 2000’s.

Instead, my attention would turn to the draft, where the talent pool is much deeper for this particular position. The Bears just happen to be in the perfect spot to find themselves a legitimate all-round back to plug into their offense. Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt (minus the criminal activities), Tarik Cohen, and Jordan Howard himself were all found in the 3rd round or later during these past 3 drafts. Plus they would 1) save tons of cap space and 2) have complete control over their contract for the next 3-4 years. With Matt Nagy likely searching for his all-purpose back in the mold of Kareem Hunt, I’d say the draft will be where we’ll find his newest weapon in the arsenal on offense.

Jeff Berckes: I would trade Howard for a player that solves a position of need (nickel corner) or to add depth to the defensive line rotation but I wouldn’t give him away for nothing. I’d much rather work with him in 2019 and find his eventual replacement in this or next year’s draft. If the Bears move Howard, the first choice would be to use some of their limited draft capital (3rd or 4th rounder) to fill the need. Tevin Coleman would appear to be the right fit, but there’s almost no chance the Bears will meet his salary expectations and I believe Ryan Pace will be conservative in Free Agency this year. The rest of the free agent list inspires little confidence.

Josh Sunderbruch: I would swap Howard for a 5th in a hurry before the other party reconsidered. I would then spend that same 5th on a replacement running back, only this one would have another four years on a rookie contract and would be drafted for the new system, not the old one.

Lester Wiltfong: If think a fifth rounder is the Bears cut off point for them to make a deal. Jay Ajayi was moved for a 4th rounder a couple years ago, and that could be where the Bears start, but if they can’t get that they’ll be comfortable getting a fifth back. I could even see them moving him for a 6th in 2019 depending on the team and if they get a throw-in future late round pick as a sweetener.

If the Bears do move Howard they’ll likely draft a guy, but don’t count out adding a free agent on a short deal.

Would I trade Howard, no. I’d keep him and find a rookie upgrade to fill the Benny Cunningham / Taquan Mizzell role and go with a three man committee with Tarik Cohen getting reps all over the offense and Howard as my power guy and game closer, and the new guy being groomed to take over when Howard walks as a free agent.

Robert Schmitz: If I could get a 5th for him I’d probably trade him. That would mean that Howard, originally drafted out of the 5th round, would have given us 3 years of service and still retained his full value. Considering that this year’s draft is loaded with quality RB talent, I think it’s best for both the Bears and Howard to trade him to a team that can make better use of his skills. From there it’s up to Ryan “Late-Round” Pace to hand-select a back that fits Nagy’s needs.

Also, please replace Mizzell.

Ken Mitchell: Would I trade him? No, absolutely not. We are Super Bowl contenders next year, and we need a pound-it back next year. We also need a great blocking back (he’s gotten to be one of those) and we need that “finish off the game” back, and we know he’s one of those as well.

We do need a Kareem Hunt kind of a back (one who isn’t actually Kareem Hunt, though... no interest in bringing Hunt himself in) but we can replace Mizzell (first) and Cunningham (second).

If we eventually lose Howard because he signs a big deal, and we don’t hit the FA market, we will get a compensatory draft pick for him that will be at least a fifth rounder.

To me, it makes no sense to trade Howard.

WhiskyRanger: Me? Probably not. Drafting a more well rounded back to be his eventual replacement (and immediately replacing Mizzell), while letting Howard play out his rookie contract would be my preference. As others have said, losing Howard to free agency could net the Bears a compensatory pick, potentially equal to what they would receive by trading him (from what I understand, it depends on what other free agency moves the Bears make). So that’d be the route I’d take. Adjust the scheme to him somewhat for one more year, and then have your second year all round back take the reins after he leaves.

I really like Howard, both as a player and as a Bear, so I don’t really enjoy looking at him in these analytical terms. But, it’s hard to deny that he isn’t the best fit for this offense... so letting him continue his career somewhere that he can have a greater impact would probably be best for both him, and the team.

Summary

We’re generally split on the idea of trading Jordan Howard. Some of the writers think that trading him sets the team up for both short and long term success, while others believe that keeping Howard for next year’s team will help the Bears finish off late games while potentially netting a compensatory pick in the process.

Now it’s your turn. What you think Jordan Howard’s open-market value is? Would you trade him for it? How would you go about replacing him?