The news that most Bears fans expected, and feared, was confirmed yesterday with the trade of running back Jordan Howard to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The former 5th round pick makes his way to the City if Brotherly Love in exchange for a 6th round pick in 2020.
The writing seemed to be on the wall for this split last season with Howard being significantly under-utilised in Matt Nagy’s offence. In addition, Howard seemed to lack the dynamism he had shown in his previous two years in the Windy City.
The former Indiana back had over 1,000 yards rushing in 2016 and 2017 averaging 5.2 yds (2016) and 4.1 yds (2017). Last season he managed ‘only’ 935 total rushing yards and a 3.7 yds/rush average. Nonetheless that total was impressive given he was in a timeshare in the backfield with Tarik Cohen and the length of time it took Nagy to modify his offence to Howard’s skillset.
The Bears eventually moved to a zone blocking scheme allowing Howard to perform like the Bears faithful know him to be as the franchise headed towards the postseason.
It’s incredibly disappointing to see how number 24 was utilised in Nagy’s innovative West Coast attack. Howard seemed restricted to predictable inside runs on 1st down or as a pass blocker in play action play calls. In fact, he lost more inside run play calls to the more diminutive and slighter Cohen. Howard seemed to lack the ability to break tackles and pick up those extra yards he always seemed to gain in his first 2 years in the league.
It’s well known that Nagy wanted a runner with the ability to catch the ball of the backfield, and while Howard spent time working on this facet of his game, he never really got the opportunity to show what he could do. Remember Todd Gurley was never perceived as a threat in the passing game before Sean McVay got to town, but now (most of the time) LA’s offence revolves around the ex-Georgia Bulldog.
For a lot of Bears fans this hurts. Howard was the team’s offence during those miserable John Fox/Dowell Loggains years, and seeing him break through would-be tacklers was pretty much the most exhilarating thing on display at Soldier Field.
GM Ryan Pace was rightly commended for drafting the Bears star running back in the 5th round and has earned the benefit of the doubt about any future roster decisions. The team will likely look to the draft to add a young runner, perhaps utilising the Eagles pick to move up for a prospect he and Nagy see as a better fit in their new attack.
Howard though would have only counted for around $2 million against the Bears cap this year, begging the question as to whether he deserves the benefit of the doubt as to what he could produce in a second year under Nagy.
It’s also a bit disappointing that Nagy, credited as an excellent offensive mind, couldn’t adapt his scheme to fit in one of the Bears homegrown stars. Especially when, as other analysts have pointed out, Howard will now be operating in Doug Pederson’s offence, which, like Nagy, stems from the Andy Reid coaching tree.
With a heavy heart, Bears fans will wish J.H. all the best in Philadelphia, and cross our fingers for the upcoming NFL Draft.