Jordan Howard has looked good in his first season with the Philadelphia Eagles, but how should the team use their leading rusher down the stretch?
When the Philadelphia Eagles traded for fourth-year running back Jordan Howard back in March, it seemed like a steal of a deal to me. Yes, Howard’s contract status (entering the last year of his deal) motivated the move, but I kept waiting for there to be some kind of horrible catch.
Maybe he was already injured, maybe he was planning on holding out for a new contract. Whatever it was, I couldn’t believe that the Eagles got such a talented player for at most a fifth-round pick.
As it turns out, there was no catch, as Howard was merely an astute move, one of the few deals general manager Howie Roseman managed to make last offseason.
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Things didn’t seem so rosy after the first few weeks of the season, with Howard seeing very sporadic play. But he has been exactly what the team has needed over the past six games or so as the Eagles’ offense has gradually shifted to a run-first attack.
Part of that shift is due to Howard’s emergence as well as increased effectiveness from rookie Miles Sanders after a bumpy start to his NFL career. But, let’s be honest, it basically had to happen because of the team’s mess of a wide receiving corps.
When it comes to those wideouts, things aren’t going to get better anytime soon, and so it is incumbent upon Doug Pederson and his staff to utilize Howard effectively over the second half of this season.
But should they be selective about his usage, or should they go for broke by running him into the proverbial ground? Both options have their merits.
On one hand, if the Eagles can manage his snaps and touches, they could be doing him a favor in the long run. Maybe both sides even like the arrangement so much that Howard chooses to sign an extension in Philadelphia after this season. Sometimes there is such a thing as a “right amount” of usage for a particular player.
Conversely, you could milk him for all he’s worth this season but potentially risk wearing him out. Then perhaps he’d be too “used up” to think about re-signing, or maybe the heavy usage works in Howard’s favor by contributing to such good numbers that he commands top dollar. As silly as it sounds, he might play so well that the Eagles price themselves out of his services for next year.
Still, I come down firmly in the camp of “all Howard, all the time”. I can’t be concerned about his long-term prospects with the team beyond this year, and the Eagles shouldn’t be worrying about that right now either.
Howard carried the ball 252, 276, and 250 times in his three seasons with the Chicago Bears. There’s no reason that he shouldn’t finish at least in that range again this season. The decision about whether or not to try to re-sign him can come at a later time.
The whole situation puts me in the mind of former Eagle DeMarco Murray, and we all saw how well that turned out for the Eagles after they signed him.
In his first three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, Murray saw his usage ramped up reasonably before he was given an utterly ridiculous workload in year number four to the tune of 392 carries to go along with 57 receptions.
The Cowboys wore him down to the rims and then let him go. It was a great plan on their part, and the Eagles were left holding the bag during Murray’s predictably awful follow-up season. As I put it in my book:
"Murray stunk, feuded with the coach, complained to the owner about his usage, got benched, hurt the team, and then got traded after just one year in town. Other than that, things turned out great."
Howard may not be directly comparable to Murray, but you have to believe that the consequences of overusing him are definitely on the mind of Eagles’ management.
Still, you can’t play for tomorrow. Howard is here now, and the team should give him as much work as he can handle. This sounds extremely cynical, but if he becomes “damaged goods”, at least the Eagles won’t be stuck with him.
We all know about the short shelf life of running backs. There are no guarantees beyond the here and now, so the Eagles should take full advantage of Howard’s dynamic presence.
I truly hope that he remains healthy and highly productive, in which case I’m sure we would all love to see him back on the Eagles beyond this year.
But Howard should be running on empty by the end of the 2019 season. If he isn’t, then the Eagles will have failed to utilize him properly.