The Eagles backfield has transformed drastically over the course of the last six months. After drafting Miles Sanders and trading a sixth-round pick for Jordan Howard, the run-game looked to be a priority heading into the new season. The good news is, that was absolutely the case, with the rushing attack well and truly rejuvenated in the City of Brotherly Love. The bad news is, Jordan Howard may not be a part of it for much longer.
It wasn’t that long ago that many were pining for the Eagles to jump the gun and sign the former Bears running back to a contract extension. Through the opening nine weeks of the season, Howard would carry the ball 119 times for 525 yards and his highest yards per carry since 2017. He was on track to set a new career-high in touchdowns and of course recorded a sensational hat-trick against the Packers. His dominant north-south skillset was the perfect fit for Pederson’s offense, with his decisive running and nasty mentality proving to be too much for opposing defenses, complimenting the more elusive and versatile Miles Sanders, who was developing in the shadows.
But after week 9, nothing.
Howard suffered a ‘stinger’ injury against his former team and would miss the rest of the season as a result in confusing fashion. He returned to the lineup ahead of the team’s playoff bid, but wouldn’t see the field.
While he was battling injury, Miles Sanders was coming into his own. The Eagles offensive playmakers started dropping like flies and the Birds were forced to lean more and more on their second-round pick. The offense was remolded around Carson Wentz and getting him into open space, becoming the team’s primary playmaker. This meant a lot of play-action looks that saw Miles Sanders lined up behind the quarterback as opposed to alongside him.
This may sound irrelevant, but Sanders struggled mightily with decision-making early in the season and would often miss gaping holes or spend too long figuring out where to assert himself, leading to a missed opportunity. Moving him further back not only helped Wentz, but gave Sanders more time to see the field and make his decision. The effects of this were obvious.
Over the course of four games, Sanders carried the ball 79 times, recording 329 rushing yards and averaging 4.6 yards per carry. This doesn’t take into account his 173 receiving yards and 6 total touchdowns.
All of a sudden, the Eagles running back of the future became the running back of today, someone who smashed LeSean McCoy’s franchise rookie rushing record. The need for a north-south powerhouse was negated by someone whos burstful cuts proved to be just as effective.
Sanders put together a campaign worthy of contention for ‘Offensive Rookie of The Year’ considerations, and even Boston Scott had a breakout, leaving Jordan Howard out in the cold.
As the offseason approaches, stress in Howard’s camp will be at an all-time high. Since his rookie year, Howard was the third-ranked back in total rushing yards coming into this season having amassed 3,370 rushing yards and 24 TDs on 778 carries. But the Bears saw a big contract looming, realizing they have to prioritize their spending, and decided to draft Jordan Howard 2.0, letting Howard go for a conditional 2020 pick, cashing in while they could.
David Montgomery, his replacement, rushed for 889 yards as a rookie, ultimately proving that the need to pay a running back substantially to compliment Tarik Cohen wasn’t the best route to travel down.
The Eagles now find themselves in a similar spot, but with one major difference. They traded a sixth-round pick to the Bears in exchange for Howard. A pick that would become a fifth-rounder if any of these conditions were met:
If Howard had 1,000 rushing yard in 2019.
If Howard made the Pro Bowl in 2019.
If Howard had 50 percent of the team’s rushing yardage in 2019.
If the Eagles re-sign Howard to a new deal before 2020 free agency.
Should the Eagles re-sign Howard to a new deal, they’ll have to give up a fifth-rounder as opposed to a sixth, which likely isn’t something Howie will want to do.
It’s not impossible that Howard doesn’t return, however. He’ll surely realize the state of the situation and be willing to take less money over a longer period to benefit the team and secure his long-term spot on a team destined to keep a Super Bowl window alive, and he is a scheme fit. But will that be enough to sway a team that really hasn’t invested in the position substantially since Pederson’s arrival – instead opting for a committee approach?
Howard is easily among the most consistently productive young backs in the league when healthy, but he’ll want to be paid like it. Barring a substantial drop in projected value, it may be time for the Eagles to do as the Bears sought to – turn to the draft for a cheaper long-term replacement who can develop alongside a complimentary piece.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports