It is hard to imagine why a team would trade a 24-year-old productive running back, but that is what Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy did last week when they pulled the trigger on a deal that sent Jordan Howard to the Eagles in exchange for a sixth-round pick that could turn into a fifth-round pick for reasons that are still unclear.
According to several reports out of Chicago, even though the fifth-round pick out of Indiana was the third most productive runner in the NFL over the last three seasons, Howard never seemed like an altogether effective runner out of Nagy’s shotgun-based offense.
Nagy took over as coach in 2018. The Bears, who had a total of just eight wins the two previous seasons, went 12-4 and won the NFC North Division but lost to the Eagles in the Wild Card round.
The worst year of Howard’s career came when the Bears ran 78 percent of their offensive plays from the gun. Howard was a square peg in Nagy’s round hole and thus the trade.
Howard rushed for just 35 yards on 10 carries in that playoff game and did not catch a pass. In the Bears’ 31-3 loss to the Eagles in 2017, Howard rushed seven times for just six yards.
“I’m definitely glad not to be playing against the Eagles,” said Howard at his first news conference since the trade. “Because I haven’t had any success against them.”
The Eagles hope to have success with him. The Birds do like to spread the ball around a lot like the Bears, but coach Doug Pederson also likes the downhill, straightforward style Howard brings with him.
“I describe my playing style as being rugged and physical,” Howard said. “I like to set the tone. I think I’m a blue-collar player, and this is a blue-collar city.”
The Eagles are a running back-by-committee offense. Howard was asked how he felt about getting only about 20 touches a game. He didn’t seem to be worried about it.
“I can get in a rhythm if I get a few touches early,” Howard said. “I think everybody at the running back position needs to get a few touches early in the game just to get a feel of the game. I just come here to play whatever role they need me to play and help the team win games.”
Howard said he has heard from several Eagles players, including his former Bears teammate wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and his Indiana University teammate, quarterback Nate Sudfeld.
“I was just with Alshon last night, Nate Sudfeld, he’s been reaching out a lot,” Howard said. “They’re just telling me I’m going to love it here. That it’s different than Chicago, but I’m definitely going to love it.”
Howard started his college career at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, played there for two seasons. Following the shutdown of UAB’s football team, Howard transferred to Indiana prior to the 2015 season, where he played one season.
In two seasons for the Blazers, Howard played in 23 games, rushed 451 times for 2,468 yards and 25 touchdowns, plus 13 catches for 155 yards and two more scores.
At Indiana, Howard played in nine games and rushed 196 times for 1,213 yards and nine trips to the end zone. The 6-foot, 224-pounder added 11 catches for 106 yards and one touchdown.
The Chicago Bears selected Howard in the fifth round (150th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft. He was the 10th running back taken in the draft. The Bears signed him to a four-year, $2.58 million contract with a signing bonus of $248,022.
Howard is used to changes. He talked about that.
“I am used to coaching changes,” Howard said. “I’ve had a different running backs coach every year since college. I’m used to adjusting to different people and getting to know different people.”
He said he met Eagles running backs and assistant head coach Duce Staley after his one season with Indiana.
“I did meet with Duce Staley in the pre-draft process,” Howard said. “I know he played for the Eagles. I heard he was a pretty good pass protector. I take pride in protecting the quarterback as well.”
He was asked if he was familiar with the Eagles offensive line.
“I don’t have to spend much time looking at the offensive line,” said Howard, who has missed just one game over his three-year NFL career. “They have multiple Pro Bowl players on the line, and I am very excited about that.”
How will all the receivers, including DeSean Jackson, help him to be productive?
“It’s definitely going to open up the running game,” Howard said. “Because they won’t be able to load the box up. With D-Jack, they’re definitely going to have the safety over the top because DeSean definitely has a lot of speed. “
Howard was asked what Jeffery said to him about quarterback Carson Wentz.
“He didn’t really have to tell me anything,” he said. “I’ve seen Carson Wentz and what he can do. He’s an MVP-caliber player when he’s on top of his game. I know what he can do.”
Eagles fans now want to see what he can do. ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii