A deal that many had expected to happen finally came to fruition last week as the Chicago Bears traded running back Jordan Howard to the Philadelphia Eagles for a late-round draft pick in 2020. It wasn't exactly a secret that the Bears were looking to deal Howard, who was one of the few consistent offensive players during head coach John Fox's tenure. But Howard wasn't viewed as an ideal fit for Matt Nagy's offense as soon as he took over.
Despite posting 3,370 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns in three seasons, Howard's old-school, power-running style didn't mesh well with the more open-field, college style of running back preferred by Nagy. Howard also wasn't used that much as a receiver out of the backfield (20 rec. for 145 yds. last season), another skill Nagy prefers in his running backs.
Howard, a fifth-round pick in the 2016 draft, is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Since it was pretty obvious he wasn't in the Nagy or general manager Ryan Pace's long-term plans, Chicago traded him to Philadelphia. In return, the Bears get a sixth-round pick in next year's draft that could become a fifth-rounder. On the surface, this is a deal that works for both sides. Here are the biggest takeaways from this trade.
1. Eagles added much-needed depth to their backfield
Prior to acquiring Howard, Philadelphia's backfield consisted of Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood, and Boston Scott. Those three have combined for 1,361 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in the NFL. That's quite a change when you consider that established veterans like Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, and Darren Sproles played key roles for the Eagles in recent seasons.
Enter Howard, who has the third-most rushing yards (3,370) in the league since 2016 and has missed just one game in that span. Philadelphia finished 2018 ranked 28th in the league in rushing (98.1 ypg). Howard's arrival should lead to better backfield production this coming season.
2. Nagy can open the playbook a little more
While the Bears finished eighth in the league in scoring offense (26.3 ppg), it wasn't quite the up-tempo, wide-open attack that Nagy envisioned when he became Chicago's head coach. Part of the reason for that is the backfield touches were split between Howard and Tarik Cohen. While Howard is more a bruising, between-the-tackles runner, Cohen is the versatile, explosive dynamo that can be used in many ways (runner, receiver, wildcat quarterback, return man). The Pro Bowler's skill set has been compared to that of the Cleveland Browns' Kareem Hunt who was the feature back when Nagy was Kansas City's offensive coordinator in 2017.
Howard is more of a downhill runner. He doesn't have Cohen's rate of acceleration, open-field elusiveness, nor is he as polished as a receiver. That said, Howard still ran for 935 yards and totaled 270 touches last season so his shoes will need to be filled somehow. Chicago already has tapped into free agency to fill Howard's roster spot (see below) and it's possible the Bears add another running back to the mix through the draft. Either way, it will be interesting to see how Nagy utilizes his revamped backfield.
3. Howard's addition will benefit Carson Wentz
After initially intending to use the franchise tag on Nick Foles, Philadelphia changed course and allowed the Super Bowl MVP to become a free agent. Foles subsequently signed with Jacksonville, leaving no doubt that Wentz was the Eagles' starting quarterback. The team also has made it known that signing him to a long-term extension is one of its remaining offseason priorities.
When that happens remains to be seen, but it's worth pointing out that this is a guy who has had each of the past two seasons come to a premature end due to injuries. A quarterback's best friend is a reliable running game and the hope is that Howard will not only help move the chains, but that his punishing running style also can wear down defenses and take some of the pressure (literally and physically) off of Wentz.
4. Cohen will likely see his role increase
Cohen is coming off of a Pro Bowl season, as he thrived (1,603 all-purpose yards, 10 total touchdowns) in Nagy's offense. The Howard trade only solidifies his lead-dog status, but the Bears aren't going to hand him 300-plus carries either. Former Seattle running back Mike Davis was signed during the first wave of free agency earlier this month. In 15 games with the Seahawks last season, Davis posted 728 yards from scrimmage with five total touchdowns. Davis is similar to Cohen in terms of skill set, which is one of the reasons why Chicago targeted him in free agency.
The other running backs on the roster right now are Taquan Mizell and Ryan Nall. So don't be surprised if another is added between now and the start of training camp. As mentioned earlier, the draft is a possibility as the Bears have already been connected to Florida Atlantic's Devin Singletary. In three seasons with the Owls, Singletary racked up nearly 5,000 all-purpose yards and 67 total touchdowns.
5. The NFC East now has a nice stable of running backs
With Howard now in an Eagles uniform the NFC East is looking very strong at the running back position. Mix in Howard with Saquon Barkley in New York, Ezekiel Elliot in Dallas, and Adrian Peterson in Washington, and expect this division to do some damage on the ground in 2019.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.