While everyone knew Jordan Howard was on the trade block, I think that the announcement last night that the former Bears Pro Bowler was traded to Philadelphia caught many by surprise. It shouldn’t have, as the Bears let it be known that Howard was available for the right price.
Judging from what I have seen on Twitter in the past 12-14 hours, many thought that the Bears “gave” Howard away — and that can’t be further from the truth.
Howard had two excellent seasons for the Bears, starting off with his rookie year in 2016, when he ran for a franchise-record 1,313 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. He followed that up in 2017 by running for 1,122 yards and averaging 4.1 yards per carry. This past season, he ran for 935 yards with an average of just 3.7 yards per carry.
Certainly there was a downward trend with Howard amassing fewer yards and his average per carry also went down each season. Also, we didn’t see the quick and powerful back with a burst in 2018 that we saw during his rookie season. Unfortunately that happens with running backs. In most cases, the shelf life of a runner in the NFL is short. Very few make it to a lucrative second contract.
Matt Nagy, of course, came from Kansas City, where he worked with Andy Reid, who developed the scheme the Bears use. As good as Howard was for the Bears in 2016-17, he was never a true “fit” for the Bears scheme. The backs who have done well in Kansas City have been a lot quicker and more explosive than Howard and were very reliable pass receivers, a role in which he is adequate at best.
What the Bears received back from Philly surprised many, as they felt Chicago could get much more. I’m sorry, but that isn’t the case with running backs, and especially with backs whose numbers are regressing. There were “rumors” that the Bears were offered as high as a third- round draft pick for Howard at last year's trade deadline. Like most rumors, that was about as true as the Giants supposedly being offered a first-rounder for Landon Collins last fall, when the best offer they actually received was a fourth. Likewise, the best the Bears were offered at the deadline was a late pick for Howard. Rumors always have a way of becoming true in the eyes of fans.
The Bears have been “shopping” Howard for weeks; they didn’t get much action. No team was willing to give up much for what's perceived to be a declining player. The offer from Philadelphia was the best, and the Bears moved Howard.
The question has been asked: “Why get a pick next year when the Bears need picks this year?" Again, it was because that was the best deal the Bears could have made.
When we look at trades involving future draft picks, there is a formula involved. When a club receives a “future” conditional pick, it can get inflated some as compared to using a current year pick. The Bears received a sixth-round pick in 2020 to make the trade. It has a chance of becoming a fifth-rounder if Howard makes good on certain play-time and production conditions. Based on the pick the Bears received in 2020, the real-time value is only a seventh-rounder this year. When a club gives up a future pick in a trade, it has to pay "interest," or a one-round premium. What would you rather have: A seventh this year or a sixth that can become a fifth next year? The answer is obvious.
I have also seen Philly receiving praise for this trade because it shows they are “manipulating” the compensatory draft pick market. That can’t be further from the truth. In order for Philly to get a comp draft pick for Howard after his original contract expires following next season, he has to sign a lucrative multi-year contract to even begin the process. Based on what Philly paid for Howard, his “value” has already been established. Next, he has to put up big numbers in 2019 to even have a chance of earning a lucrative offer in free agency.
Philly uses a three- and four-back rotation, so it will be difficult for Howard to produce big numbers. Then, even if he gets a multi-year contract containing good money, he has to live up to the contract with both production and play time. As I wrote here last week, the compensatory formula is based on the contractual numbers but also playtime, production and league honors. It is a stretch to assume Philadelphia will get any compensation for Howard if they lose him in free agency.
With Howard officially gone, the Bears have a need at running back. They already signed former Seahawk Mike Davis in free agency. Davis' skill set is a better “fit” for Nagy’s offense than Howard's was. The Bears also signed WR/KR/RB Cordarrelle Patterson, who may not see more than a carries a game, but defenses have to account for him because of his run instincts and big-play ability.
The Bears don't have first- or second-round selections, but they will will draft a running back in either the third or fourth round. This draft isn’t deep with premium RB prospects, but the middle rounds will have a number of backs who could be ideal fits for the Bears: Memphis' Darrell Henderson, Iowa State's David Montgomery, Texas A&M's Trayveon Williams, FAU's Devin Singletary and Devine Ozigbo from Nebraska.
Not all of those backs are assured to be there when they select at No. 87, but the Bears should have their choice from at least a few of them.