When it comes to Jordan Howard and trade rumors, the writing has been on the wall for what seems like an eternity. After Bears head coach Matt Nagy confirmed that Howard was on the trade block at the NFL’s owners’ meetings earlier this week, many felt it was only a matter of time before the 24-year-old would be calling a new city home. On Thursday night, those suspicions were confirmed.
The Bears have traded Jordan Howard to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 2020 sixth-round pick reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The selection has a chance to become a fifth-rounder based on unspecified conditions. The Howard era in Chicago — where he ran for 3,370 yards in three seasons as one of the lone bright spots of John Fox’s tenure — has officially come to a close.
It’s no secret the Bears have been looking for a more versatile tailback to fit Matt Nagy’s offense. Where players like Howard and Tarik Cohen are productive in their own rights, they have their individual limitations. The difference with Cohen is that the Bears effectively value his propensity for explosive plays that much more than they do Howard’s bruising style.
For the Bears to completely take the next step as an elite offense, they know they have to have a less predictable back to deploy as necessary. Howard’s trade is but another major signal of their ambitious overall goal.
Of course there’s always a certain peril when trading proven players for late round draft picks, and especially to direct NFC competitors. To make a move of any kind with your own productive player means not being comfortable with his overall skill-set as it pertains to your system. Nagy’s offensive scheme needs more of a versatile tailback to thrive on all cylinders. Through 778 carries and 44 starts, the Bears feel they possess enough information to know Howard doesn’t fit their profile and they moved on accordingly.
Howard does fit somewhere else in the league. Being the fastest in Bears history to 10 100-yard rushing efforts — faster than Walter Payton of all people — is an example of what Howard’s capable of when an offense is tailored around his strengths as a specific bell cow. He can wear a defense down if given the chance and the touches in strategic moments. The issue is that the Bears and Nagy no longer had a vested interest in accommodating Howard in such a fashion. However, Nagy’s friend in Eagles head coach Doug Pederson is a testament to carving out a specific goal line and power role. Just ask LeGarrette Blount and his Super Bowl LII ring.
If I were to grade this trade off of its immediate merits with no games played — often a foolhardy prospect — I’d say the Bears and Eagles came out with the rare win-win.
Philadelphia needed a situational runner such as Howard, and the Eagles’ coaching staff has experience in integrating such players into an offense. The Bears meanwhile salvage some measure of value for a player in the last year of his rookie contract. A player many surmised they would’ve released before the open of the 2019 season anyway. If there were a better offer, general manager Ryan Pace and company would’ve readily snatched it. What is also abundantly clear is that Howard’s eventual #RevengeGame against the Bears in Philadelphia next season should be a doozy.
Running backs are still valuable in the modern NFL. They can play a role in a successful and diverse offense if used properly. But teams like the Bears are increasingly treating them like a dime a dozen. If you can find a Howard in the fifth round, like the Bears did and so many organizations do every April, you can assuredly try, try again.
The Bears move forward with Cohen, newly-signed Mike Davis, and one gaping hole they’re more than prepared to fill at the end of next month.
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.