A month ago, I would have argued that it was imperative for the Eagles to re-sign Jordan Howard.
Now? It’s imperative that they don’t.
Howard was very good in the nine games he was healthy. He averaged about 60 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns.
Good stuff. He sure looked like a guy you’d want to re-sign before he hit the open market this spring.
Then he got hurt.
And two things happened.
1. Miles Sanders blossomed
Sanders, 22, was playing well in a secondary role alongside Howard. He averaged 71 scrimmage yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry. With Howard out, those figures have increased to 96 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry. He’s 10th among all NFL running backs in scrimmage yards since Howard got hurt, ninth in rushing average (4.7) and eighth with 20 catches. It took Howard’s injury for us to really see what kind of player Sanders is.
2. Boston Scott blossomed
Scott’s been on the active roster since Week 6, but it’s really in the last two weeks that the Eagles have been forced to ramp up his workload, and the former practice squad player has responded with 16 carries for 75 yards and 13 catches for 108 yards in wins over the Giants and Redskins. That’s 183 scrimmage yards in two games from a kid who had barely played any NFL football in his life.
But the 22-year-old Sanders and 24-year-old Scott haven’t just put up good numbers. They’ve demonstrated, at least so far, that they play quite well together, and they’ve helped give the offense a dimension of unpredictability and explosiveness it’s been missing for a while.
If you project Sanders’ production based on the last five weeks, you’re looking at about 1,100 rushing yards and 65 catches. Sounds about right.
There’s not a lot to go on with Scott, but watching him these last two weeks, it’s entirely reasonable to think he could run for 30 yards and catches three passes for 25 yards a game. I’m concerned with his ball security and I’d never expect him to be a high-volume guy, but give him 8-12 touches and he’ll make some big plays.
The Eagles have never had two backs in the same season run for 400 yards, catch 30 passes and average 4.4 yards a carry.
It’s fair to think this duo could do that.
This offense operates so much more efficiently when the running backs are capable runners and receivers. They really haven’t had that in a feature back since LeSean McCoy.
At least for the last two games, they’ve had two of those guys.
With two games left, Sanders has already shattered rookie franchise records for rushing yards and scrimmage yards. His vision, instincts, power and burst make him one of the NFL’s most exciting young backs.
You hate to say it, since Darren Sproles is an all-time great, but you can’t help but think of Sproles when you watch the 5-6 Scott dart between tacklers, juke defenders out of their skin and turn the corner on lunging linebackers. Funny that the Eagles got ‘em both from the Saints.
This has the potential to be a dangerous 1-2 running back punch for the Eagles.
This isn’t a knock against Howard, but I no longer see Sanders as a complimentary piece. He’s a franchise running back, and bringing Howard back would restrict Sanders.
The Eagles need to get back to building around young players on their first contracts. Sanders is signed through 2022 at a very reasonable $1.34 million per year. Scott is a minimum-wage guy right now, which means he’ll earn about $427,000 this year for 11 weeks on the active roster. He’s signed through 2020, but the Eagles control his rights through 2021.
Howard is still being paid on a budget fifth-round rookie deal from Chicago in 2016, so you know he wants to get land that first big contract.
Despite missing the last five games, Howard is the third-leading rusher in the NFL over the last four years, behind only Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley,
There are 15 running backs earning at least $4 million per year on long-term deals.
Most likely, Howard will be looking for something north of $5 million a year.
The Eagles have too many other needs to pay a running back with significant wear and tear — already nearly 1,000 career touches — $5 or $6 million a year when they already have a couple capable options under rookie contracts.
You never know. Maybe Scott’s last couple games are a mirage. He doesn’t have a big body of work. Maybe Sanders won’t get any better. Maybe he’ll regress. You just never know with this stuff.
But if I were calling the shots? I’d build around Sanders and Scott.
I’ve seen enough. I’m sold.
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.