After a season in which running back Jordan Howard proved to be an awkward fit in coach Matt Nagy’s system, the Bears traded him Thursday to the Eagles.
That the Bears got so little for Howard — a sixth-round pick in the 2020 draft that could improve to a fifth-rounder if Howard excels next season with the Eagles — shows how little teams were willing to part with for a running back entering the final season of his contract.
That they moved quickly, rather than wait until closer to the draft next month, indicated the Bears didn’t think they’d get a better offer.
The Bears, who will save the $2.025 million cap hit Howard was due, will pursue another running back, most likely in the draft. They signed the Seahawks’ Mike Davis this month, and Tarik Cohen will continue to be a pass-catching force out of the backfield.
On Tuesday, Nagy claimed Howard had a role on the team but confirmed rumors the Bears had discussed him with other teams.
‘‘We’re always going to — with all of our guys — if there are rumors out there or there are people talking, [general manager] Ryan [Pace] is always going to see where we’re at,’’ Nagy said at the NFL’s annual meetings in Phoenix. ‘‘And if it’s something that we think is going to make our team better, we’ll entertain it.
‘‘So the running back position for us right now is something that we think we’re in a good spot. But we definitely feel overall in the run game, between the O-linemen, the running backs and me calling plays, that we can be better in the run game.’’
Howard’s emergence was an early success story of the Bears’ front office. The fifth-round pick was one of only three players with at least 250 touches and 1,000 yards from scrimmage in each of the last three seasons. Howard’s yards per carry, though, dropped from 5.2 in 2016 to 4.1 in 2017 to 3.7 last season.
Howard ran for 1,313 yards — a franchise rookie record — on 252 carries in only 13 starts in 2016. He ran 276 times for 1,122 yards in 2017, becoming the fastest Bears player to reach 2,000 career yards. He did so in 24 games, besting Walter Payton’s 26.
Howard excelled with regular work, saying he felt stronger the more often he was hit. That didn’t jibe with Nagy’s offense, which preferred a stable of versatile rushers capable of lining up at receiver — and catching the ball like one. Howard averaged only 24 catches in his three seasons with the Bears.
Howard, an Indiana alum, ran 250 times for 935 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Nagy answered questions almost weekly about the up-and-down running game, maintaining he didn’t make bellcow backs a priority.
The Bears spoke volumes about whom they blamed for their rushing woes this offseason when they brought back their entire offensive line.
‘‘I know the way Matt is: He likes that kind of by-committee approach and using them in different ways, and you know how creative he can be on offense,’’ Pace said this week. ‘‘And who knows what’s going to happen in the draft? It’s going to be a unique year where we’re picking, and it’s still going to be best player available. If it is a running back, then we’ll sort through it.”
Howard’s next act will be compelling. Eagles coach Doug Pederson runs a similar offense to the one run by Nagy, his old friend and fellow Andy Reid disciple. If Howard’s style didn’t fit the Bears, how will he help the Eagles?
They’re giving up little to find out. A sixth-round pick next season is considered in league circles to be as good as a seventh-rounder this season. If Howard shines, the Bears could move into the fifth round in 2020, though that might prove to be cold comfort.