It’s been six games since we’ve seen Jordan Howard carry the ball for the Philadelphia Eagles. The former Chicago Bear could be set to return this week in a key week-17 clash against the Giants, but a lot has changed since he picked up a stinger against the team that drafted him.
The Eagles drafted Miles Sanders in the second-round of this year’s draft with the intent of finding the next ‘LeSean McCoy’. Sanders was a breath of fresh air to the offense and after a few weeks of transition, he began to find his feet as a dynamic threat who just so happened to be the perfect complement to Jordan Howard’s aggressive running style.
Sanders still had some clear areas for development. His patience and vision were often lacking in comparison to the more experienced Howard, but the flashes of elite athleticism were visible from the moment the green flag dropped. When Howard went down with injury, many assumed the Eagles backfield would struggle.
Little did we know, a sharp twist of fate was coming. Nobody thought Howard would be out this long, and very few envisioned Sanders taking on a role that even notable bell cow backs around the league would consider to be heavy. The Eagles brought back Jay Ajayi, so it made little sense to push Sanders into a role where he may not be as comfortable in. But then, out of nowhere, Sanders did what Sanders does best – turn heads and make plays.
After the games against New England and Seattle, the Eagles started to lean on Sanders a lot more. He’s seen a bump in carries in each of his last three appearances, which is important. Typically, the Eagles offense tends to hover around 16 carries per game for its lead running back. Sanders has carried it 15+ times in each of his last four. But when you look at the numbers, it really isn’t that hard to see why?
This in itself is a dream scenario for the Eagles. Their rookie has exploded into life and has stepped into some pretty sizable shoes, but this now leaves Jordan Howard in a bit of a tough predicament.
It wasn’t that long ago that many were clambering for the Eagles to jump the gun and sign him to an extension. Prior to his injury, he was averaging his highest ‘yards per carry’ (4.4) since 2017 and was on track to set a new career-high in touchdowns. Howard was the dream-fit for this offense and helped Pederson achieve the run/pass balance that fans had also craved. But there lies the issue.
Miles Sanders has proven he can carry that kind of workload and be extremely productive in doing so, leaving Howard, a pending free agent in the last year of his rookie deal, racing for his future.
The Eagles may well opt to give the starting reins back to Howard and reduce the wear-and-tear on Miles Sanders, but once the offseason arrives, the reasons to keep Howard around have started to evaporate. That’s not to say they won’t, but any hopes of a longer-term deal may have shrunk in size thanks to the breakout of Miles Sanders.
Howard’s decimating north-south style has already proven to be the perfect fit for the elusive rookie and being able to run a more creative offense as a result will only boost the production of the backfield ahead of a potential playoff run where those tough yards that Howard can pick up would be key.
But what happens when this season comes to an end? Has the Miles Sanders explosion left the Eagles with no real justification to pay Jordan Howard with an eclectic draft class on the horizon? The Chicago Bears made that same decision ahead of this season, opting to draft Devin Singletary (Baby Howard) and pass their star onto the Eagles, cashing in while they can.
The future is suddenly murky for a running back who just a few months ago looked like he may form the perfect long-term thunder and lightning combination. There’s every chance he stays on a cheaper deal, but all storms pass…we haven’t heard the claps of thunder in quite some time and are already seeing a beautiful rainbow in the distance.
Mandatory Photo Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke