PHILADELPHIA – Five years, 36 touchdowns, and at the age of 26, Jordan Howard thought his NFL career had come to an end.
It had nothing to do with the injuries that shelved him for the Eagles' final six games of 2019, or his lack of use after bolting for the Miami Dolphins in free agency following his one and only year in Philly.
It had to do with a cell phone that never rang, one that had fallen deathly and frighteningly silent.
Then, the Eagles broke the silence and signed the free-agent running back to a one-year contract last week.
“Honestly, my market was pretty dry,” said Howard on Tuesday afternoon, meeting reporters via Zoom while wearing an Allen Iverson retro Sixers jacket.
“I was at the point where I was having thoughts like I might be done because teams weren’t really calling. I’m grateful to have an opportunity to be back here.”
Howard joined the Eagles last year after the Dolphins cut him, beginning on the practice squad before being active for two games, earning seven carries for 27 yards. Miami rarely used him after signing him, and he was a gameday inactive a couple of times.
“It just wasn’t a good fit, the role they put me in,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that. I’m not here to focus on the past but focus on the future, on the present.
“I feel like I have a lot left. The past two years, I had the injury that put me out for a lot. Last year, I didn’t really play, so I definitely feel like I have a lot left in the tank.”
Running backs typically have less shelf life than the average player, with the amount of punishing hits they take, but Howard offered a theory as to why the position isn’t as valued as it once was.
“I think it’s just because the game, it’s more of a passing league and stuff,” he said. “It feels like running backs are disposable and they can get a running from wherever … so, it really feels like we’re disposable.
"I feel like running backs can do a lot of different things. We still have value to teams. Some teams value running backs more than others. Really gotta keep fighting that stigma. I would never want to change being a running back … I just love it.”
Howard and Miles Sanders were a dynamic duo in 2019.
Sanders gave Howard a lot of credit for a breakout rookie season that saw Sanders' role grow weekly to the point where he concluded that year with 818 yards rushing and 509 yards receiving for a combined six touchdowns.
Howard, meanwhile, led the Eagles in touchdowns with seven despite missing the final six games with a shoulder injury. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry, running for 525 yards and six touchdowns while mixing in 10 catches for 69 yards and another score.
“Our relationship is very good, couldn’t be better,” said Howard. “We’re friends on and off the field. Sky’s the limit for him. He has all the talent, all the ability. There’s really nothing he can’t do on the field.”
Howard isn’t concerning himself at the moment with reuniting with Sanders and regaining the kind of role he had in 2019. He is well aware that there are no guarantees he will even be with the Eagles on opening day.
There are many months between now and that September date, and there is a significant moment in that span that could change things for him in a hurry, and that is the 2021 NFL Draft later this month.
The Eagles will likely add to the position, and what point in the draft they do could determine Howard’s longevity in Philadelphia.
“Really just trying to make the roster and help the team any way I can,” he said. “I’m here to push Miles to continue being the great NFL back that he has the potential to be, along with the rest of the room, we’re all going to push each other and make each other better.”
Howard said he has played with a chip on his shoulder since arriving as a fifth-round pick of the Chicago Bears out of Indiana in 2016. Now, after being released by the Dolphins and his phone falling silent this offseason, that chip may be even larger.
“It definitely humbled me, being released by Miami and stuff like that,” he said. “Things didn’t work out like I wanted them to. Most times, things have gone great for me, so I faced a little adversity. It definitely helped me. I always play with a chip on my shoulder, but at this point, teams were writing me off and stuff, didn’t think I had any more, so I just can’t wait to prove people wrong, whenever I can.”
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s EagleMaven. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.