The Eagles found their running back for next season by acquiring Jordan Howard from the Chicago Bears on Thursday for a 2020 draft pick, addressing a position of need without paying a hefty price.
The draft pick is a sixth-rounder that could become a fifth-rounder, according to a league source.
Howard, 24, rushed for 3,370 yards in his first three seasons. His best season came as a rookie in 2016, when he was No. 2 in the NFL in rushing with 1,313 yards and 5.2 yards per carry and made the Pro Bowl. His production declined in the last two seasons, but he’s an upgrade for the Eagles’ backfield.
Howard fits as the first- and second-down running back -- he’s not known for his pass catching -- and he gives the Eagles some stability at the position entering the draft. They can still add a running back in the draft, although they can focus on value more than need.
This might not be a long-term answer, considering Howard is under contract for only one more season at $2.025 million, but it’s not an expensive salary, and it allows the Eagles to avoid paying a big contract in free agency or losing out on a compensatory pick.
In addition to Howard, the running backs on the Eagles’ roster are Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams, and Boston Scott. Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles are free agents.
The Eagles did not address running back during the initial wave of free agency, but top executive Howie Roseman cautioned against panic when asked about it on Monday. He noted how the Eagles have six months before they play a game and that they won a Super Bowl in 2017 with three running backs who were added after the draft.
The Eagles did not wait until the draft this time. Howard’s time in Chicago appeared to be coming to an end after his playing time declined in Matt Nagy’s offense, and the Bears signed Mike Davis in free agency to pair with Tarik Cohen. Howard averaged only 3.7 yards per carry last season and had a career-low 20 catches.
But for the Eagles, Howard provides proven production and durability for a unit that needs it. The 6-foot, 224-pound Indiana product has been an effective short-yardage rusher, converting on 30 of 45 attempts on third- and fourth-and-short. He’s third in the NFL in yards after contact since entering the league, according to Pro Football Focus, trailing only Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley. He’s missed only one game in his career and played 16 games in each of the last two years, which is more than anyone else in the Eagles’ backfield.
The Eagles have talked about using a “cohabitation matrix” before acquiring a player, seeking insight from someone in the organization who knows the player well. Joe Douglas, the Eagles’ vice president of player personnel, was the college scouting director in Chicago when the Bears drafted him in the fifth round.