INDIANAPOLIS – New coach Matt Nagy liked the enthusiasm, if not the timing, of Jordan Howard’s recent “prediction” of playoffs for the Bears this season. But whether Nagy likes Howard enough as the centerpiece running back in his still-forming Bears offense is somewhat less certain.
Whispers are that the Bears and Miami Dolphins have had conversations about the Dolphins sending wide receiver Jarvis Landry and a third-round pick to the Bears in exchange for Howard and a swap of the Dolphins pick at No. 11 overall for the Bears’ at No. 8.
Landry carries Miami’s franchise tag but coach Adam Gase was less than adamant about Landry continuing as a Dolphin at all cost despite 400 catches and not missing a single game over Landry’s first four NFL seasons.
“Yeah, if it works out the way that we’ve kind of looked at things,” Gase said this week at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Really, that’s why we franchised him. We’ll just kind of see how it goes.”
Howard was the Bears’ chief offensive threat over the past two seasons, becoming the first running back in franchise history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in each of this first two seasons.
But sources said that the Nagy offensive staff has concerns about Howard’s shortcomings as a receiver and which pose a significant issue for a scheme with a West Coast foundation. The Nagy offense presupposes backs with excellent receiving skills, which Kansas City Chiefs backs typically had during Nagy’s tenure on Andy Reid’s staff and which Howard has not demonstrated in his two Bears seasons.
If Howard is not viewed as the long-term fit at running back, the time for GM Ryan Pace to make a move points to sooner rather than later.
Nagy was generally complimentary of Howard’s play, with a possible qualifier that the staff will be looking at how Howard’s “unique” style fits into the emerging Bears offense. “It's interesting, because you watch him on tape and you see his style of play and it's unique, but it's a good unique,” Nagy said. “He's a tough runner and has a style where he's able to be elusive for his size, but yet he can still make that first-down run on fourth-and-1 or short yardage.
“It's intriguing for us as a staff when we watch tape to see him, to be able to see how we can fit his style of play into our offense. It feels right.”
Howard as receiver, however, has been problematic, in view of his 5 drops among 32 targets last season, with only 23 total receptions. Howard averaged just 5.4 yards per reception last season, with a long of only 12 yards.
By contrast, Kansas City’s lead backs were notably more productive:
2017: Kareem Hunt, 53, rec., 8.6 ypc, long of 78 yards
2016: Spencer Ware, 33 rec., 13.5 ypc, long of 46 yards
2015: Charcandrick West, 20, rec., 10.7 ypc, long of 80 yards ; Jamaal Charles, 21 rec., 8.4 ypc, long of 26
The Bears are in a decidedly makeover mode, and whether Howard indeed fits the offense envisioned by Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich remains to play out – just as with Landry and the Dolphins.