The Bears on Thursday traded RB Jordan Howard to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 2020 sixth-round draft pick that can become a fifth-rounder based on play-time incentives, officially ending more than a year of speculation regarding the former Pro Bowler’s standing in Chicago.
Howard, 24, set the franchise rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards in 2016 after he was selected No. 150 overall out of Indiana. In Year 2, he became the first Bears back in franchise history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career and the quickest to 2,000 rushing yards.
Howard's hard-charging and determined style, a rare bright spot in what was one of the league's duller, more one-dimensional offenses, quickly made him a favorite in Chicago, where fans have been spoiled two of the greatest of all time in Hall of Famers Walter Payton and Gale Sayers.
But Howard's limitations in the passing game and decreased lack of explosiveness made for an awkward fit in Matt Nagy’s offense last season, when he mustered a career-low 3.7 yards per carry and failed to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time. Howard was rumored in trade discussions last spring and again in the fall prior to the deadline. But, the Bears, then surprisingly in the division driver's seat and led by a dominant 'D' but still-green QB Mich Trubisky in a new offense and sans a Howard contingency plan, reportedly rebuked offers.
Yet Nagy said Tuesday when asked about the increasingly loud trade rumors centered on Howard: "[GM] Ryan [Pace] is always going to see where we’re at, and if it’s something that we think is going to make our team better, we’ll entertain it. So the running back position for us right now is something that we think we’re in a good spot. But we definitely feel overall between the o-linemen, the running backs, and me calling plays that we can be better in the run game."
Ultimately, the Bears deemed Howard expendable after signing ex-Seahawk Mike Davis to a two-year deal worth up to $7 million on the first day of free agency. Howard's departure leaves the 26-year-old Davis, an accomplished pass catcher whose between-the-tackles prowess Nagy lauded earlier this week, and mini stick of dynamite Tarik Cohen, 23, on the depth chart.
But they have only five selections in next month's draft, where running back is now perhaps their greatest need, and enter a season with serious Super Bowl aspirations, so Nagy and Pace have ratcheted up pressure on themselves considerably to improve a run game that finished 27th in yards per carry after jettisoning easily their most accomplished player.
Howard finds a fresh start but with a few familiar faces in Philadelphia, including Eagles offensive coordinator (and former Bears WR coach) Mike Groh, WR Alshon Jeffery and several members of the Eagles front office who were in Chicago when Howard was drafted.
Ironically, much like Nagy, fellow Andy Reid disciple Doug Pederson's Eagles offense relies heavily on a RBBC approach but values guys who can help in the receiving game. The potential of Howard having a successful contract season with the Eagles after leaving Chicago and carving out a long-term home with the club that just knocked Nagy's Bears from the playoffs only magnifies the need in Chicago to successfully rebuild their run game — quickly.