Any slight hope that Le’Veon Bell was going to make his way to the Eagles were extinguished when the former Steelers agreed to a four-year deal with the New York Jets as NFL free agency kicked off.
With that pipe dream brushed aside, the reality of the situation is that the Eagles have been fairly quiet this week after agreeing to a deal for Malik Jackson and bringing back wide receiver DeSean Jackson in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Among the largest items on general manager Howie Roseman’s offseason checklist that has yet to be addressed is that running back position where many held an unreasonable belief that Bell would move across the state to Lincoln Financial Field.
The free-agent market grew even thinner after Tevin Coleman took a bargain of a deal with the San Francisco 49ers on Wednesday, which means the Eagles might have to look elsewhere to upgrade a troubling backfield.
Veteran rusher Jay Ajayi, who only played 11 games for the Eagles in one-plus season after suffering a torn ACL, is unlikely to return as he hits free agency. It leaves the Eagles with a trio of rushers that instill little confidence.
The injury-prone Darren Sproles has played just nine games over the last two seasons and has never been a featured back during his 14 years as a pro. Corey Clement posted just 259 yards in 11 games during his second season in the NFL while Wendell Smallwood has yet to record more than 87 rushes over his first three years in the league.
With Carson Wentz affirmed as the leading man in Philadelphia after Nick Foles’ departure, Roseman needs to find a No. 1 back to help take some pressure off the Eagles passing game.
Here are two non-free-agent-options he could pursue this offseason:
The Chicago Bears have been receiving trade calls for their starting running back, who is in the final year of his rookie deal.
The 24-year-old has regressed in each of his three seasons in the league, statistically speaking, which provides a worrisome trend. After bursting onto the scene with 1,313 yards (5.2 yards per attempt), Howard’s numbers dropped to 1,122 in 2017 and 935 in 2018.
However, the most recent drop has plenty to do with his inability to get going under head coach Matt Nagy’s system. The Bears coach is looking for an elusive back (like a Le’Veon Bell) that can make people miss. It’s bad news for Howard as a downhill, hard-nosed runner, which means he’s a poor fit.
While it’s a style that isn’t going to work in Chicago, it’s just the kind of back Eagles fans should want as he will quickly adorn himself to the hometown faithful.
The Eagles have reportedly been in touch with the Bears over the past few months. They wouldn’t have to give up much either as a lower-round pick could do the trick.
On paper, this is more of a risky move to make compared to Howard considering Johnson has carried the ball just 299 times over his four-year career.
However, if the Eagles are content on returning to a backfield-by-committee approach, it makes perfect sense.
Johnson has proven to be an effective runner in such schemes during his time with the Cleveland Browns. He’s averaged 4.3 yards per carry in his career, including a stellar 2018 in which he put up five yards per rush.
What makes him even more valuable is his dual-threat capabilities out of the backfield that could give Wentz a security blanket in the passing game.
The 25-year-old Miami (FL) product has recorded at least 47 receptions per season in the NFL with an average of 542 yards per year.
The Browns recently put Johnson on the trade block after acquiring Kareem Hunt, per Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot and at least three teams are interested.