McMullen: Roseman Continues to Stack Good Decisions
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Since Howie Roseman regained his position atop the food chain on the Eagles' football operations side, the franchise has developed a reputation for stacking good decisions.
That continued Thursday night when Philadelphia agreed to send pennies on the dollar -- a conditional 2020 sixth-round pick -- to Chicago for a two-time, 1,000-yard back in Jordan Howard.
A powerful 6-foot-1, 225-pound runner, Howard set the Bears' rookie record with 1,313 yards as a fourth-round pick out of Indiana in 2016 before also cracking the 1,000-yard mark as a sophomore in 2017. Things tailed off last season when Howard finished his third campaign in Chicago with 935 yards at a pedestrian 3.7 yards-per-carry. He's also never been much of a receiving threat, ranging from 20 receptions last season to a career-high 29 as a rookie.
The glass-is-half-empty crowd will point out that Howard has essentially been on the market since Matt Nagy arrived in the Windy City and once the Bears signed Mike Davis in free agency to pair with dynamic third-down back Tarik Cohen, it became clear that Howard was the odd man out.
From there the narrative is that no one knows Howard better than Chicago so why were the Bears willing to sell low of the fourth-year back?
Howard's numbers have trended downward in each season so that, coupled with Chicago's willingness to drop a "proven" producer for a trinket that couldn't have secured Manhattan Island, should raise some red flags if the context is not added.
Nagy is of course another Andy Reid disciple who has a similar offensive philosophy to Doug Pederson and much like the Eagles coach wants the Christian McCaffrey-, Alvin Kamara-type that is all the rage in the NFL. The Bears, though, actually already have a reasonable facsimile with Cohen.
The issue is that Cohen's size limitations almost demand a pitch count when it comes to touches so Howard essentially was the innings eater on an offense where most teams approached things with the intent on forcing the limited Mitchell Trubisky to beat them.
In other words, you can crunch the numbers all you want and point to the downward spike in production but when Howard was ripping off big runs as a rookie, it was on a very bad team that still had Jay Cutler at the start of the campaign so the typical game plan against the Bears was to stop the arm talent of the veteran QB first and foremost. And that never changed with Brian Hoyer as well.
Nagy is simply in a different place than Pederson at RB, possessing the desirable skill-set template with the obvious caveats. The Eagles, on the other hand, haven't been able to get that kind of back since Pederson returned for the 2016 season with the aging Darren Sproles serving as the closest option, something highlighted by the Eagles coach defaulting to the veteran in key situations when he's been healthy over the past three years.
From Philadelphia's perspective Howard is the typical cost-effective Roseman pickup as 2019 will be the final year of his rookie contract at just over $2 million. The sixth-round pick in 2020 earmarked for Chicago could turn into a fifth-round selection if Howard reaches certain playing time conditions with the Eagles but with a projected net gain in compensatory picks, Philadelphia should have plenty in the war chest to barely notice a missing later-round pick by then.
In Pederson's offense, Howard will immediately be penciled in as the lead back in a committee which also currently employs Corey Clement, Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood, Boston Scott and Donnel Pumphrey. Both Jay Ajayi and Sproles are free agents and the acquisition of Howard likely shifts the door on Ajayi returning to Philadelphia.
Sproles remains a Pederson favorite but hasn't technically decided if he wants to play in 2019 and the Eagles would prefer a younger player anyway while Clement seems to have fallen put of favor a bit and has been on the trade market.
Since entering the NFL, Howard has the third-most rushing yards of any running back (3,370), behind only Ezekiel Elliott (4,048) and Todd Gurley (3,441) and Eagles personnel chief Joe Douglas was the Bears director of college scouting for the 2016 draft when Howard was selected before moving to Philadelphia in May of that year.
Plan B in Philly has always been the committee approach and Howard is the fourth lead back in four years for Pederson but also should be a better two-down option that the others: Ryan Mathews, LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi. In fact, Howard is a lot like Ajayi without the knee concerns and also comes over $1M cheaper than the perceived alternative in free agency, Tevin Coleman, who opted for a reunion with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco for $3.25M guaranteed.
If it doesn't work out you simple move on in 2020 with little financial penalty and in the meantime the Eagles not prevented in any way from continuing to uncover any rock in search of a true three-down back..
Acquiring Howard is no home run but it's the latest in a long line of logical decisions for Roseman, a sharp single to left that makes the Eagles a better team.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen