Jordan Howard thought training camp this past summer might be his last chance to salvage his NFL career.
Then he got cut.
Howard’s story of perseverance and determination from Pro Bowler to practice squadder and finally back to relevance after a two-year nightmare should be required reading for anybody who’s thinking of giving up on their dream.
“It was very challenging,” Howard said. “I had some good days. A lot of bad days.”
Howard’s journey from Pro Bowler and two-time 1,000-yard rusher with the Bears to lead running back with the Eagles the first half of 2019 hit a detour with a neck injury midway through the year.
A two-year detour.
He signed with the Dolphins after the 2019 season, was released after just five games and 33 yards, briefly returned to the Eagles' practice squad, couldn’t get a tryout anywhere, mulled retirement, finally re-signed with the Eagles with no promises, got cut after training camp and found himself on the practice squad the first two months of this season.
“First day I’m on practice squad, I’m on the look team and stuff like that, ‘Dang, this is my reality right now,’” Howard remembers thinking.
He had made about $9 ½ million, about half of it for 28 carries with the Dolphins. He could have retired and he would have been fine.
But he wasn't quite ready. He wanted to give it one more shot.
The rest of the NFL had no interest in Howard, but the Eagles offered him a chance to come to training camp and try to prove himself.
“Going into training camp I told myself, ‘If I don’t make the team, it’s not going to be because I didn’t do well, just because of numbers game or whatever,” he said. “I felt like I put in the work, but things didn’t go my way but that’s life.
"Things don’t always go your way, you’re going to face adversity, it’s just how you respond to it.”
He cut his weight from 234 to 225 and, finally fully healed from the neck injury, got himself into terrific shape.
“I had a great offseason,” he said. “My best offseason so far. I looked in the mirror, had to look at what I needed to change and what I needed to do differently. What I needed to fix, and that helped me get off on the right foot.
“Basically, this is kind of like my last chance. If I don’t take advantage of this I don’t know if I’m going to get another chance. Because I guess last year was so bad that no teams really wanted me. So I figured I had to put my best foot forward, and I couldn’t have any excuses, any mishaps, just had to do what I could.”
He had a very good camp but got cut anyway.
“Even though I didn’t make the team right away I felt like it was a good situation for me personally,” he said. “So I decided to stick around.”
And when Miles Sanders got hurt, Howard got the call.
In two weeks as a practice-squad elevation, Howard ran 29 times for 128 yards, a 4.4 average, and three touchdowns in his first extended action in two years. Only five running backs in the league had more rushing yards than Howard over the last two weeks – Jonathan Taylor, Nick Chubb, Devontae Booker, Javonte Williams and Darrell Henderson.
Pretty good company.
The Eagles used up all of Howard’s elevations, so they had no choice but to sign him to the 53-man roster this week.
On Friday, Howard spoke for the first time publicly since August.
He said that while the NFL may no longer look at him as the guy who had more yards than any back in the league other than Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley during the four years from 2016 through 2019, he still thinks of himself that way.
If not better.
“I still view myself as that player,” he said. “I feel like I’m better now. But what I did in the past really doesn’t matter because it’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, so you’ve just got to focus on the next task at hand.
“None of my past accomplishments really matter so I just gotta keep pushing forward.”
What’s next? Who knows.
Sanders is eligible to be activated after the Eagles play the Broncos Sunday, and Howard has no idea what his future is.
But at this point, he knows he’s playing with house money. Whatever happens happens. All he can do is be ready.
“I’m just happy to be playing,” he said. “You never know when you’re going to get your opportunity or when your last opportunity is going to be, so I’m just grateful for it all.”