Because the Miami Dolphins immediately placed the franchise tag on wide receiver Jarvis Landry, teams – including the Chicago Bears – hoping to acquire the Pro Bowl receiver would have to get creative to do so.
The latest rumor that John “Moon” Mullin of NBC Sports Chicago hears would definitely qualify as creative. Mullin has heard rumblings that the Bears and Dolphins have discussed a trade scenario in which Chicago sends running back Jordan Howard and the No. 8 pick to Miami in exchange for Landry, the No. 11 overall pick, and the Dolphins’ third-round selection (No. 73 overall).
Miami gave Landry and his agent the OK to pursue trade partners earlier in the week and the Bears emerged as a possibility. In a documentary style video shared on Saturday, Landry expressed his desire to not play on the franchise tag in 2018.
HOWEVER, NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport steps in and tweets the Bears have “zero desire” to trade Howard. Are we looking at public posturing? Maybe. But remembering how Bears GM Ryan Pace kept his desire to draft Mitch Trubisky so close to the vest that the head coach was rumored to have been caught off guard makes us think there is no way the team wanted to leak something like this as a negotiation ploy.
(UPDATE: Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith chimes in with a league source who says “no way” that deal is happen. So we have that on our plates, too.)
Still, this gives us an opportunity to explore this possibility while we have the chance.
Swapping first-round picks and sending a Pro Bowl back about to enter his third season in the NFL would be quite the price to pay for a Bears team desperately searching for answers at wide receiver. If this hypothetical deal went down, Chicago would immediately enter the market for a starting running back, and dropping down in the draft would likely take them out of the running to select Penn State stud Saquon Barkley if his stock dropped. After his dominant showing at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, I’m hard-pressed to envision a scenario where he drops out of the top-10. This would leave the Bears searching for a replacement in the draft and/or free agency.
Wanting to acquire Landry to shore up the team’s receiving corps is understandable, but trading a Pro Bowl caliber running back with two more years on an affordable rookie-scale contract raises red flags.
And to be clear, the Dolphins don’t have much leverage in trade talks. They have committed to giving the franchise tag to a player that pushes them over the salary cap. Think about it. Miami is somewhere between $15 million to $20 million over the cap, depending on your source. Teams must be under the cap by 3 p.m. on March 14. Thus, a possible Landry deal has to be done before the new league year begins.
Mullin hears that Matt Nagy and his staff have “concerns about Howard’s shortcomings as a receiver” out of the backfield. Catching passes hasn’t been Howard’s forte since being drafted by the Bears in 2016. And even though Howard’s catch percentage improved to 71.9 percent in 2017, his career 63.4 percent catch rate in his first two seasons is subpar. To put it in perspective, Kareem Hunt, the NFL’s leading rusher last year, who caught 84.1 percent of his passes as a rookie in Nagy’s offense with the Chiefs in 2017.
Clearly, there is value in being versatile enough to be a factor as a rusher and receiver in this West Coast style offense. If Nagy and his staff (especially Offensive Coordinator Mark Helfrich and Running Backs Coach Charles London) studied film and came to the conclusion that Howard wasn’t the best fit moving forward, it’s understandable.
I suppose it would behoove the Bears to move on from Howard sooner rather than later *if* the team doesn’t view him as their long-term feature back. Howard should still have a fair bit of trade value given his cheap team control. If Jay Ajayi could net the Dolphins a fourth-round pick, what could a two-time 1,000-yard back with a Pro Bowl appearance already under his belt get the Bears? Probably a third-round pick, at minimum.
Then again, dealing a player like Howard comes with significant risk, as the Bears would have to be certain they could add the right feature back in his place – Tarik Cohen is incredibly talented, but I have my doubts that he can handle a feature back’s workload.
In the end, dealing a cost-controlled stud back for a player who will command a salary upward of $14 million from a team that is handcuffed by its salary cap situation is a questionable process. Stay tuned, though, because the NFL hot stove is beyond lit.