So the Bears didn’t get as much for Jordan Howard as you thought.
Trust me, if they could have gotten more, they would.
A trade that has been expected for months finally materialized Thursday night, as the Bears sent Howard to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a 2020 sixth round pick that could eventually turn into a fifth round pick, depending on the conditions.
No, that’s not a lot. But it’s what the market dictated. Clearly there wasn’t a lot of demand for a running back whose numbers have declined in each of the three years he’s been in the NFL, even if a tweet from ESPN Stats & Info Thursday made Howard seem elite.
I can draft a counter-tweet right here in this column:
2016: 252 carries, 1313 yards, 5.2 yards/carry, 6 touchdowns
2017: 276 carries, 1122 yards, 4.1 yards/carry, 9 touchdowns
2018: 250 carries, 935 yards, 3.7 yards/carry, 9 touchdowns
Everything but the touchdowns have declined, and it’s not like nine touchdowns is a remarkable number.
But forget the numbers for a second. There’s three years of NFL tape that shows Howard is a good, but not special running back. He’s tough, but he’s not explosive. He’s durable, but he’s not versatile. And he’s not a threat to run dangerous routes out of the backfield.
In today’s NFL, the demand just isn’t there for good, tough and durable. Teams want special, explosive and versatile. That’s what they pay for.
And that’s why the Bears didn’t get more in return.
So why not keep Howard? Isn’t his production more valuable than a fifth or sixth round pick in 2020? Those are fair questions, so let’s look at this only from inside a Bears bubble.
Nagy has already decided that Howard isn’t a great fit in his offense. And he loves himself some Tarik Cohen. The Bears added Mike Davis in free agency and could very well use a draft pick on another running back. If that’s the case, Howard’s usage was going to decline pretty significantly in 2019.
Meanwhile, his cost is going up significantly. Howard’s cap hit was less than $700,000 in 2018. This year, his cap hit is north of $2 million.
That would have left the Bears with a clogged backfield and a $2 million running back that wasn’t getting the ball much. Remember, this is a team that has been creating cap space by cutting players and restructuring big contracts. They have more players they want to add, draft picks that need to be paid and some possible extensions (i.e. Cody Whitehair) that they’d like to get done by the start of the regular season.
With all that in mind, Howard actually could have been a candidate to be released if there were no takers in the trade market.
Some have pointed out that the Eagles theoretically could replace the draft pick included in this deal with a compensatory pick in 2021 if Howard signs elsewhere a year from now. First off, considering Howard is moving into a similar offense as he was just in, I wouldn’t count on him putting up the kind of numbers that will command a contract large enough to give the Eagles a comp pick. It’s possible, but unlikely, especially given what the trade market just said about Howard’s value.
On the other hand, the Bears just guaranteed themselves a draft pick for Howard and will get it a year earlier than the Eagles would. That’s not bad for a running back that was going to cost over $2 million this year and wasn’t going to be used as much. And if the pick ends up being in the fifth round, the Bears will receive pretty much the same currency they spent on Howard when general manager Ryan Pace drafted him in the fifth round in 2016.
Look, I get it. Howard has been a good, productive running back for the Bears. He’s tough. Fans — especially Bears fans — love those type of players in Chicago. Unfortunately, there’s no way to write this column without it making it seem like I’m bashing Howard as a player. I’m really not. I’ve said over and over again that I think he’s a good NFL running back. Unfortunately, the business of football looks at running backs differently. The reality is that Howard’s numbers have declined, his cost is going up and he’s not a great fit in Nagy’s offense. The economics just didn’t work in his favor here.
To be honest, as we look at this thing in late March, I’m not terribly impressed with the Bears’ running back room without Howard. But the draft is less than a month away and the guy that was just voted NFL executive of the year by his peers has already shown a knack for drafting running backs in the middle rounds (Howard in the fifth and Cohen in the fourth).
There’s actually a good amount of logic in making this move. You might want to give Pace and Nagy the benefit of the doubt on this one.