Corey Clement

After move from predictable Bears offense, Jordan Howard should excel with Eagles

After move from predictable Bears offense, Jordan Howard should excel with Eagles

Is Jordan Howard another Ezekiel Elliott or Todd Gurley? No. Those guys are on a different plane athletically.

Do the Eagles need an All-Pro running back? Also no. They won a Super Bowl with a backfield comprised of Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement.

But those statements, while true, dramatically undersell Howard’s ability and the potential for him to excel in the Eagles’ offense.

Howard is only 24 years old. He averaged over 1,100 yards rushing and eight touchdowns over his first three NFL seasons. Only Elliott and Gurley produced more yards on the ground during that span.

Yet, some have been quick to downplay the Howard addition, pointing to declining numbers the last two seasons, his lack of impact as a receiver out of the backfield and the Eagles’ tendency to rely on multiple backs. Again, all of that is true.

It’s also a fact Howard was playing in an offense with a below average passing attack the past two years. The Chicago Bears ranked dead last in the NFL in passing yards in 2017, and 21st in 2018. Opponents knew if they stopped the run, they would force Mitchell Trubisky to beat them.

Is it a coincidence Howard’s yards per carry dipped from 5.2 as a rookie to 4.1 and 3.7 in ensuing seasons? Or is it a symptom of seeing a steady barrage of eight-man fronts as part one of the league’s most predictable ground attacks?

Howard finished second with 1,313 yards in 2016. In the right situation, he can flourish.

And the Eagles already proved they don’t need a do-it-all feature back who’s going to double as a receiving threat. In 2017, Wendell Smallwood led the team’s runners with 13 receptions. Clement emerged as a viable receiver in the playoffs, but his 10 catches matched his season total.

It’s not like Howard is incapable of catching a pass, either. He recorded at least 20 receptions each season with the Bears, topping out with 29 grabs for 298 yards and a touchdown in ’16.

The Eagles are probably a lock to take another running back early in the draft and don’t write off Darren Sproles returning quite yet. The expectation here is very much Howard will be part of a rotation of some sort.

The expectation here is also for Howard to post numbers — specifically yards per carry — more in line with his rookie campaign.

Ajayi averaged 4.9 yards in 2016 and 3.4 the first seven games of 2017 with the Dolphins, but his YPC jumped to 5.8 over his final seven with the Eagles. Blount averaged 3.9 for the Patriots in 2016, then 4.4 for the Eagles in 2017.

Like Howard, Ajayi and Blount are not known for their prowess as dual-purpose backs. Still, in the Eagles’ pass-first offense with an MVP-caliber Carson Wentz at the helm, and behind a star-studded offensive line, that tandem carried the team to a world championship.

Howard’s best NFL season to date tops both Ajayi’s and Blount’s, and it was as a member of a 3-13 Bears team quarterbacked by Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley.

Now imagine Howard in midnight green, as arguably the offense’s fifth most dangerous weapon behind Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, DeSean Jackson and Nelson Agholor; with Dallas Goedert and maybe even Darren Sproles also in the mix; with Jason Peters, Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce paving the way; and with Wentz back at 100 percent, throwing the ball for miles or taking off whenever the mood suits.

Howard might not be on the level of an Elliott or Gurley, but in the Eagles’ offense, he should also do a lot more than his last two seasons in Chicago suggest.

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Does Le'Veon Bell make sense for the Eagles?

Does Le'Veon Bell make sense for the Eagles?

The Eagles are desperate for a running back. One of the NFL’s best is about to hit the open market.

No-brainer, right?

It’s not that simple.

On one level, Le’Veon Bell makes a ton of sense for the Eagles. He’s a three-time all-pro running back who’s rushed for over 1,200 yards with at least 75 receptions in three of the last four seasons that he’s played. And he’s a tremendous blocker.

The running backs currently on the Eagles’ 2019 roster? Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement, none of whom is a starting-caliber NFL running back.

The Eagles’ inability to run the ball in the postseason — they didn’t even reach 50 rushing yards in either game — was damaging, and they don't have a more pressing need as they head into free agency in the draft.

So the Eagles will pursue Bell?

Probably not.

Two reasons, and they’re intertwined: 1) Philosophy and 2) Money.

Howie Roseman’s philosophy — and he’s never wavered from it in either stint as general manager — is that the historically limited shelf life of running backs means you never devote a tremendous amount of resources in the form of draft picks or salary for running backs. 

Because you’re just not going to get anywhere close to the return that you get from other positions.

The Eagles haven’t drafted a running back in the first three rounds since LeSean McCoy 10 years ago, and their only recent big-money free agents have been disasters — $42 million over five years for DeMarco Murray, $11½ million over three years for Ryan Mathews, both during the one year Chip Kelly was GM.

Remember, LeGarrette Blount’s one-year deal was worth about $1.6 million, Jay Ajayi cost the Eagles only a fourth-round pick and was on a fifth-round rookie contract when they acquired him, and Clement was undrafted. Those three were the backs on the Super Bowl championship team.

Bell only turned 27 earlier this week, but he’s got the fifth-most touches in NFL history by a player in his first 62 games. That's a red flag for Roseman. 

Is it smart to pay a fortune to a guy who plays a position where historically production begins to decline at the point he’s at?

I looked at the rest of the 20 running backs with the most touches after 62 games (the number of games Bell has played in his career) and compared their rushing average in those 62 games with the rest of their career.

The results are shocking: 16 of the 19 declined after the initial 62 games, and 11 of them — more than half — declined by at least half a yard per carry.

The only ones who increased were Jim Brown, Curtis Martin and Ricky Williams, none by more than 0.3 yards per carry.

On average, they declined by 0.42 yards per carry. 

Here’s that chart:

Playing running back in the NFL is not conducive to long careers. And as talented as Bell is, we may have seen the start of that decline in 2017, when he averaged 4.0 yards per carry — exactly half a yard below his career average of 4.5 going into 2017.

This doesn’t mean Bell will definitely experience the same sort of decline as Eric Dickerson, Terrell Davis, Earl Campbell, Jamal Lewis, Eddie George, Clinton Portis or the others. It just means the average NFL running back with a similar workload will.

So we may have already seen Bell at his best.

And Howie knows that. 

And that brings us to Part 2, which is money, and the Eagles just don’t have a whole lot of it to spend. 

According to an NFL.com story last year, Bell already turned down a five-year, $70 million contract from the Steelers. That would have been nearly 30 percent more lucrative than any running back contract in history.

CBS Sports reported earlier this week that Bell is looking for a deal worth $50 million in just the first two years.

For the sake of comparison, the Eagles paid their running backs a TOTAL of $3.21 million in 2017 and they won the Super Bowl.

The Eagles have cap issues, they have a young quarterback they need to sign and they have three of the first 57 picks in a draft that has some intriguing running backs.

I’m sure Howie could figure out a way to do this deal if he really wanted to. He’s Howie. This is what he does. 

I just don’t think the numbers make sense for the Eagles and the way they’ve historically done business.

The Eagles are going to get themselves a franchise running back. It’s just almost certainly not going to be Le’Veon Bell.

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Eagles Mailbag: Jordan Mailata’s future, drafting a RB, bringing back Brandon Graham

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Eagles Mailbag: Jordan Mailata’s future, drafting a RB, bringing back Brandon Graham

We got so many questions in this call for mailbags, that I actually split it into three parts. Thanks to everyone who submitted. 

Yesterday, we talked about what Carson Wentz can learn from Nick Foles, what the secondary might look like next season and the importance of getting younger on the defensive line (see story)

Plenty more questions to get to today:

You’re right. I was so impressed with how far he came in such a short time last offseason. But the only way we’ll see him more next year is if he’s a starter or someone gets hurt and he’s the next backup. I don’t think he’ll be ready to be a starter at the beginning of the season. I know it’s tough to see how far he came last year and not see him play in the regular season, because he certainly seems to have a bright future. But I think it’s just too early. He’s still learning how to play this game and is still a longer-term project. 

But we’ll see how he looks in the spring and in training camp. Remember, we haven’t really seen him since his first training camp because most of the regular season practices are closed. And he hurt his back late in the season. But I guess there’s a possibility he’s just continued to improve a ton. As a rookie, he was active for just a handful of games and didn’t play. I think he’ll be higher on the depth chart in 2019, but I can’t see him playing a ton.

They need to get a running back and with this organization’s hesitance to pay a lot for the position, yeah, they probably need to draft one. The last time the Eagles drafted a running back, they took Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round. He has yet to play an NFL snap. But the Eagles haven’t drafted a running back in the first two rounds since they took LeSean McCoy in the second round back in 2009. In the years since Shady was traded, the Eagles have had four different leading rushers: DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, LeGarrette Blount and Josh Adams. They definitely need some stability. 

Since Shady was traded, the Eagles have drafted just two running backs in six draft classes. The Eagles have drafted 42 players in the last six classes and two of them have been running backs. It’s also important to note the Eagles got Corey Clement and Josh Adams after the draft was over. 

But Pump and Wendell Smallwood were fourth and fifth-round round picks. I still don’t think they’ll take one in the first round, but with two second-rounders, maybe this is the year they prioritize taking one higher. 

I love that people feel like this. Because Brandon Graham should mean a lot to this fanbase. He’s the former first-round pick who was labeled a bust, remained the most positive human ever throughout the whole thing and eventually became a Super Bowl hero. It’s really an incredible story. But I’m not sure about this. I think there’s a chance the Eagles get a defensive end high in the draft and they bring back Michael Bennett, which makes it tough to re-sign Graham. 

Now, if a market doesn’t really materialize for Graham and the Eagles don’t lowball him, I think there’s a chance he’d take a small hometown discount to return. I agree that it would be a big loss if he’s gone, but I have a feeling another team is going to offer him a contract that will be too much for the Eagles to match.

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