Last week, the Chicago Bears traded feature back Jordan Howard to Philadelphia for a conditional sixth round pick that could turn into a fifth rounder depending on Howard’s performance. For this move, Bears fans were outraged and the team was memed over and over again. Over the past three years, Howard was a workhouse for Chicago, racking up 3,370 rush yards over that span, third most in the NFL. Howard quickly became a fan favorite. So, why did the Bears trade such a stud running back for so little? Maybe this trade wasn’t so bad after all.
First, let’s look at who the Bears currently have on their roster. They signed former Seahawks running back Mike Davis to a two year deal. Many think that Davis is not a good solution, but I disagree. Yes, he was the third running back on Seattle’s depth chart last season, but he has shown that he can be very productive when given a lead role. Davis, unlike Howard, fits the description for a typical Matt Nagy back. He is quick, elusive, is an effective route runner, and is good in space.
Take a look at Week 4 of 2018, for example. Chris Carson was inactive and Davis took most of the snaps out of the backfield. He racked up 124 total yards and 2 touchdowns as he showcased his pass-catching ability, speed, quickness, agility, and vision. All of those talents make him a perfect fit for the Bears.
Howard had good vision, but lacked speed, quickness, agility, route-running, and seldom broke away for big plays. Take a look at some of the clips and analysis provided by Windy City Gridiron in this article. They explain why Howard didn’t work out with the new Bears, why other backs can.
Tarik Cohen is the other back the Bears have on their roster, and he is an ideal fit for the Bears. Though only 5’6’, Cohen is one of the most versatile players in the entire NFL. In his two years with the Bears, he’s lined up in the backfield as a traditional running back, in the slot, outside the numbers, as a kick returner, and as a punt returner, where he earned first team all-pro honors in 2018. Heck, he’s even lined up in the wildcat as the quarterback and thrown two touchdowns in his career. If you read the WCG article, you have seen his abilities and why he succeeds in the Bears offense.
Even before the Howard trade, it was pretty clear that the Bears were going to use an early pick on a running back. Penn State’s Miles Sanders, Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams and Ohio State’s Mike Weber seem to be their favorites to me. And it’s no coincidence that all three of those guys have many things in common: they have all displayed great vision, speed/quickness, elusiveness, and are dangerous in space.
So, why trade Howard? Well, it’s obvious he’s not a system fit, but he’s still a good player. Howard was due about $2 million this year, and while he may have shown up as the #1 back on the depth chart in 2019, he likely would still have seen the third most playing time. Another thing is, Howard has had a massive decline since his first season. In 2016, he had 1,313 rush yards, 6 touchdowns, and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. In 2017, he had 1,122 yards, 9 touchdowns, and averaged a still solid 4.1 yards per carry. And then in 2018, he had 935 yards, 9 touchdowns, and only 3.7 yards per carry. The truth is, three yards and a cloud of dust isn’t going to do it in today’s NFL. “But why only a sixth round pick?!?!” Well, if Howard does play well, the Bears will get a fifth rounder back, which is what they used to pick him in the first place. And even if they don’t, a one dimensional running back with one year remaining on his contract isn’t valuable in the NFL, and the Bears got something for him, rather than nothing when he would leave in 2020.