Howie Roseman stood in front of the microphone on Monday at the NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix and spoke of the “transition” period from free agency to the focus on the NFL Draft and how those days were, in a way, a divide of the two pieces of an offseason. Somehow, you just knew that Roseman was working on something behind the scenes for the Eagles.
He certainly was.
The Eagles announced on Thursday night the acquisition of running back Jordan Howard from the Chicago Bears for the price of a 2020 draft pick, reportedly a sixth-round pick that can become a fifth-round selection, a deal that brings to the Eagles a big, strong, always-moving-forward ballcarrier who is going to fit right into the team’s picture at the position.
Only 24 years old, Howard gained 3,370 yards (third in the NFL since 2016) and scored 24 rushing touchdowns (sixth in NFL over that span) in his three seasons with the Bears. He made the Pro Bowl team after a rookie season during which Howard picked up 1,313 rushing yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Howard followed up with 1,122 yards and nine scores in 2017, and then last season picked up another 951 yards and nine scores, playing his best football at the end of the regular season with two 100-yard games in the final four weeks and scoring four touchdowns during that span.
Concerns about running back? Shouldn’t be now with Howard on board, and with the Eagles still, as Roseman said in Arizona, “six months away from playing a regular-season game.” Translation: The Eagles are always keeping their eyes open.
At 6-feet, 224 pounds, Howard brings power to the ground game, and he brings a nose for the end zone. Howard’s 18 touchdowns since 2017 are tied for the third most in the NFL behind the Rams’ Todd Gurley (30) and New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara (22). Howard and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott are the only two running backs in the NFL with 900-plus yards rushing in each of the last three seasons. And in short-yardage situations (third- or fourth-and-2 or fewer), Howard converted 74 percent of his opportunities this past season (23 of 31), just behind Elliott who was successful 76 percent of the time (35 of 46). Howard’s “explosive” runs numbers have dropped since his rookie season, but the Eagles think he’s going to fit into the offense as a move-the-chains running back who can be effective as a checkdown receiver in the passing game.
Does acquiring Howard mean the Eagles are done at the running back position? Of course not.
As head coach Doug Pederson said in Phoenix, he wants more players at every position. What Howard brings is a different dimension from what the Eagles had in the running back room – a back who isn’t going to be tackled for a loss, who is going to bring some power, and who has a great feel for finding the end zone. He may not be as explosive as, say, Jay Ajayi, but he’s durable and he’s productive.
This is a brilliant move by Roseman and the Eagles, who give up very little in terms of the 2020 draft – one in which they expect to get at least three compensatory draft picks – and get in return someone they know is going to be there week in and week out. And after injuries ravaged the running back position in 2018, that’s a great thing to know.
Howard joins 2018 leading rushing Josh Adams, a second-year man, Wendell Smallwood in his fourth season, and third-year man Corey Clement, who is progressing after suffering a knee injury last November. And with the NFL Draft still four weeks away, free agency still open, and the trade deadline not until the middle of the 2019 season, anything is possible. Roseman is always working the phones, always looking for a way to upgrade the Eagles’ roster.
He's done it with the addition of Howard. After sitting quietly through the first couple of weeks in free agency relating to the running back position, Roseman got a deal done with the Bears in Arizona. Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be, knowing Roseman’s track record. Having a big, strong running back, as the Eagles had with LeGarrette Blount in the Super Bowl season, works in short-yardage situations, in keeping ahead of the chains, and, certainly, in goal-line moments.
Jordan Howard fits what the Eagles are looking for to a tee. He isn’t going to wow you with flash and dash, but you’re going to see running behind a strong offensive line moving the chains, picking up critical early-down yardage, and spiking the ball after touchdowns. Defenses have to respect Howard near the goal line. The Eagles made themselves better at the running back position and on offense on Thursday night thanks to some league-meeting time when Roseman stepped to the side and got a deal done.