The idea that a talented player isn’t a fit on a particular roster, because his skillset doesn’t necessarily vibe with a certain playbook is a bit of a frustrating dilemma – perhaps one that shouldn’t even exist. In an ideal world, good coaches should be able to fit talented players into their system, and not the other way around (that is, if they’re truly talented). That’s not too much of a stretch, is it?
Of course it isn’t … which is why the idea that Jordan Howard isn’t a “fit” for Matt Nagy’s offense eats at me.
Howard is a talented player. He has two 1,000-yard seasons and a Pro Bowl season on his résumé. And even in a down year, still accumulated more than 900 rushing yards, scored nine touchdowns, and even rounded out his game by improving as a blocker and pass-catcher. And while Howard isn’t the player he was as a rookie in 2016, his play down the stretch showed how valuable he could be to an offense when winter entered the picture.
Nagy is a good coach. He was regarded as one of the best up-and-coming assistants before he joined the Bears, then won NFL’s Coach of the Year honors in 2018 in his first season as a head coach. No, things didn’t end well in Year 1 for Nagy and the Bears. But turning around a team that won 13 games in three years under John Fox into one that was victorious 12 times en route to winning the NFC North is no small feat.
So why can’t these two forces co-exist under the roof at Halas Hall? They can, but it’s complicated.
Nagy’s scheme is inspired by Andy Reid (whose coaching tree branches out with new head-coaching candidates annually) and has proven to be one that can win a Super Bowl, as evidenced by Doug Pederson’s magic two seasons ago with the Eagles. Fittingly enough, Pederson’s Super Bowl winning Eagles provided a blueprint on how to properly use a running back with Howard’s skill set with how they used LeGarrette Blount. Much like Howard’s 2018 season, Blount’s 2017 was a disappointment . And yet, few think about his 766-yard, two-touchdown season. Instead, the mind goes to the rotation of backs the Eagles used that featured Blount (alongside Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Wendell Smallwood) in situations that were best for him and the team.
And much like how Pederson’s offense doesn’t call for a load-carrying back to rush it 30 times, Nagy’s offense doesn’t appear to need that either. But we’re now looking at a year’s worth of Howard trade rumors, which is enough to know that his time is running out in Chicago. Because even if he isn’t moved, Howard is on the last year of his rookie deal and it’s not often that running backs get second contracts with the same team these days.
Between Howard being in the final year of his contract and the perception that he isn’t the perfect fit all adds up to this scenario for the Bears, as offered up by WGN-TV’s Josh Frydman:
So basically would you rather go into season with:
A. Howard ($2.087mil cap hit on final year of contract) + RB you draft/sign
B. Extra 4th-7th rd pick, $2 mil in cap savings, and a new starting RB via FA market (Yeldon, Coleman, Ware) or a rookie you draft https://t.co/TAQqvgkjfd
— Josh Frydman (@Josh_Frydman) March 7, 2019
Essentially, the decision the Bears need to make has to do with their valuation of Howard moving forward.
If Howard is more valuable to the 2019 Bears as an on-field asset who could yield a compensatory pick in 2020 if he walks away in free agency, then the team would be wise to hold onto him for the time being. But if the extra draft pick and $2 million cap savings is more important to the 2019 Bears, then the right thing to do is to move on.
The Jordan Howard decision simply comes down to answering one question – does this move get the Bears closer to a Super Bowl? However the Bears come to that answer, they should probably do it quickly.