Jordan Howard’s two-year $9,750,000 deal with the Dolphins makes him the 14th highest-paid back by average in the NFL as we enter the 2020 season. But does he really deserve that much money, or have the Dolphins gone back to overpaying their free-agent signings?
Taken in the 5th round out of Indiana in 2016, Jordan Howard is clearly the leader of Miami’s backfield entering the new season. As the only running back on the roster with more than 150 NFL carries and 4 touchdowns, Howard will need to hit the ground running for the Dolphins to be successful.
Jordan Howard’s career to date
Entering his fifth year, Howard is already in rarified air for an NFL running back. As an established backfield leader, Howard has led his team in carries in all but one of his previous seasons.
In fact, until 2019 in Philadelphia, Howard posted at least 250 carries in each season and at least 6 touchdowns on the ground. Think that’s not that impressive? Last season the Dolphins top three rushers combined for just 187 carries and 4 touchdowns.
The running game in Miami has been anemic for several seasons, in large part due to a poor vertical passing game, an atrocious offensive line, and very poor play calling. A very bad combination for running backs.
You have to go back to 2016 for the Dolphins last 1,000 yard back, the season where Jay Ajayi ran through defenders on his way to multiple 200-yard games and 8 touchdowns. Even that season, where Ajayi topped 1,300 yards, he only surpassed 100 yards in a game 4 times.
2020 will look very different
The Dolphins offensive front will be much change in 2020, having already upgraded two positions in the interior. The additions of Ted Karras at center and Ereck Flowers at guard should make the Dolphins a much more stout proposition in the run game.
Miami is also expected to address the o-line in the draft this month, with at least one tackle expected in the form of either Joshua Jones or Austin Jackson the most likely candidates.
Couple that with the Dolphins finally getting back to using Parker on more vertical routes, and having a quarterback who doesn’t care if he throws interceptions, should loosen up the defences nicely for Howard.
Howard averages a stout 2.77 yards after contact per carry for his career, a mark only bettered by Mark Walton on the Dolphins 2019 half-back roster. The Dolphins will be looking for Howard to top that mark in 2020, and push it back closer to his career-high of nearly three yards per carry.
No Dolphins running-back averaged north of four yards per carry in 2019, another area Howard will be expected to pick up the slack.
The receiving game is another area where Howard may improve the Dolphins. Kalen Ballage dropped a staggering 4 passes out of 19 targets in 2019, while Howard has just 2 drops in the last 2 seasons over 39 targets.
However, receiving has not been a primary strength of Jordan Howard over the years, with just 82 catches over his four seasons. Expect the Dolphins to try and expand that facet of his game to stop teams keying on the run game when he’s on the field.
Jordan Howard is a solid addition but it remains to be seen whether the financial outlay is fully justified. The Dolphins traded away former starter Kenyan Drake last season after he became disgruntled with his role and workload in the Dolphins system.
While a completely different back, Drake re-signed with the Cardinals this offseason, signing a one-year transition tag contract worth $8,483,000. It remains to be seen whether either of these moves works out well for Miami moving forward.
In fairness, Drake was seeking $8 million per year on a longer deal, a value the Dolphins never really extracted from him. Sending him to Arizona was likely the right move as the Dolphins did at least recoup a fifth-round draft pick.
The Dolphins have gone the aging retread route in the last two offseasons, signing Frank Gore in 2018, and Mark Walton in 2019. While Gore was a success, Walton’s off-field troubles proved too much for him to overcome and he is now out of the league.
If Jordan Howard can expand his receiving repertoire for the Dolphins in 2020, it will allow him to stay on the field on most downs preventing defenses from keying on him, or the running game. Howard is clearly an upgrade as a runner at this point, if he can just stay on the field in passing situations it could seriously open up the offense.
At this stage, the Dolphins do deserve some leeway on their decisions as they continue to overhaul the roster. Players like Jordan Howard will go a long way to determining how long that goodwill lasts.