24 No More
The Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles have agreed to terms on a trade, sending Jordan Howard to the Eagles in exchange for a draft pick. Right now it stands as a 2020 6th round draft pick, but has the possibility to become a fifth rounder depending on how much Howard contributes to the Eagles in 2019. Howard was drafted in the 5th round (150th overall) in the 2016 NFL draft.
Last year during the playoff push, an undisclosed team was reported offering the Bears a 3rd round pick for Jordan Howard. Whether that was the Eagles, Rams, or another team in the hunt, it made fans believe that Howard would yield a similar draft capital for the 2019 draft. More knowledgeable fans were expecting a drop-off in value because he will become a free agent in 2020, and teams aren't as desperate as they are during a playoff push before the trade deadline. Still, no one expected such little value for a running back like Howard. After seeing the details of the trade, Chicago fans were in an uproar.
Multiple factors led the media to believe Howard wouldn't be a part of the 2019 roster. The rumors this off season about Howard being traded resurfaced as soon as the Cody Parkey shock wore off. The Bears have interviewed more running backs than any other position while going through draft prospects, and the 2 year $6 million contract given to Mike Davis, tripling any contract that Pace has given to a running back since he started in Chicago, was a dead give away. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reported that the Bears were thinking about out-right cutting Howard if they could not make a deal. This is something that will make you scratch your head.
Set aside the fact that in a more suitable offense, Jordan Howard's production was phenomenal, and concentrate on how he performed in Matt Nagy's offense. On tape, it was clear Howard never looked like a perfect fit in Nagy's offense, but did start trending upward toward the end of the season. He ended the season with his lowest rushing total (935 yards), lowest average (3.7 Y/C), and the lowest attempts per game (15.6 A/G). All that being said, after the rumors surfaced about Howard not being a good enough pass catcher to fit in Nagy's system, he worked in the off-season and improved. Other than deleting his pictures associated with the Bears when he was rumored to be traded last year, he has never caused a problem in the media. The media pressed Nagy and Howard throughout the season, and both answered the questions in the right way, making the best of the situation presented. But was the situation really all that bad? His yardage total was 14th in the NFL and his 9 rushing TD's tied for 7th among running backs. Even with Howard having his worst statistical year, you would still want him more than half of the the starters in the NFL. Philadelphia understands that, considering they were 31st in rushing for the 2018 season, which is why they made the move for Howard.
Looking at the financial side of things, Howard was given a raise this year due to a clause in rookie contracts giving them a significant raise if they play more than 40% of the snaps they are eligible for. His contract went from $630,000 to $2,025,000. When the Bears were pressed up against the cap, you could understand moving or cutting Howard to free up another $1.4 million, but after the restructures it doesn't make much sense. Most of the big ticket free agents are gone, they can only extend players from drafted in 2016 or earlier, and the $17.5 million left on the cap before Howard's departure had them sitting pretty going into the draft. If not pressed for money, why give up a player that could get you some tough inside yards and easy red zone scores?
My biggest issue with the trade is the destination: Philadelphia. My biggest issue with Matt Nagy's rookie season was he was unable to adjust his system to benefit Jordan Howard's skill set. Nagy has stated that he wants players to be interchangeable and does not want to be transparent or predictable from the personnel on the field. The Eagles' Head Coach Doug Pederson came from the same coaching tree as Matt Nagy, and runs a similar offense. The Eagles have been willing to use players like Jay Ajayi and now Jordan Howard, appearing as a more transparent offense, and were extremely successful in 2017 when their roster was healthy. Obviously the Patriots won the Super Bowl, and it was almost a guarantee when Sony Michel was on the field, it was run play. Matt Nagy has also stated that it is never about one guy and he prefers multiple options at the running back position. Although Nagy has been transparent and installed a much needed culture in Halas Hall, it seems like he got himself caught up in this one. He did what he had to do, preaching that Howard had a place on the team - and you need that from your head coach - but it became clearer and clearer that Nagy wanted a new running back. His poor utilization of Howard should be one of the few red marks noted on his rookie head coaching report card.
It seems like Nagy and Ryan Pace, flat out, think Jordan Howard isn't that good of a player. If they are willing to trade him for a 6th round pick (possible 5th), that means they feel like they will have no problem replacing him, and possibly already have, with Mike Davis. Fans can stew in the anger, but the deal is done and they chose to stack another draft pick in 2020, gathering 8 up to date. It's hard to see a player like Howard go, being a small light during a dark time, and you have to wish him success. Only time will tell if this was the right move for Chicago - until then, the jury is still out.