On June 15th, all Miami Dolphins players and coaches reported to mandatory minicamp; well, all players with the exception of All-Pro CB and 2020 INT leader Xavien Howard. It became clear early on in the day that he wouldn’t be showing up due to what Coach Brian Flores called “a contract situation.”
Howard was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL draft by Miami, but his rookie year was plagued by injuries. He won the battle for the second starting position opposite veteran Byron Maxwell, but missed weeks 5-14 after reaggravating the knee injury he had in training camp. In 7 games, he ended with 40 tackles, 6 PBU’s, and a forced fumble.
The Dolphins knew they had a potential star in him after that season, although he needed to improve.
In his second season, he started to gain some notoriety when he took over as the starting cornerback. In Week 13, he picked off Trevor Siemian twice, with one being a Pick 6.
Week 14 was his coming out party as he picked off Tom Brady twice on National TV. He won AFC Defensive Player of the Week. After having 7 interceptions in 12 games in 2018, Miami decided to pay their star CB.
In May of 2019, he signed a 5 year, $75.25 million contract with $39 million total guaranteed. He only played 5 games that season before Miami placed him on the PUP list with another knee issue. After returning to full health in 2020, Howard exploded with 51 tackles, 20 PBU’s, and a league leading 10 interceptions.
So the question is: Why ask for an extension now?
It’s rare to see a player holdout for a new contract or renegotiated deal just 2 years after signing a deal this long; however, in Xavien Howard’s case it is understandable, yet unprecedented.
When Xavien Howard signed his 5 year deal in 2019, the deal made him the highest paid DB in football at the time. Just 2 seasons later, he’s just the 6th highest paid at his position. Considering he’s widely regarded as top-3 at his position and lead all DB’s in interceptions (10) and passes defended (20), it isn’t shocking he would ask for a new contract.
Considering his first 2 years on the contract was frontloaded with guaranteed money with the last three years being chump change.
Howard may also just want to be the highest paid corner on the team, ahead of his fellow starting cornerback Byron Jones.
Jones had a PFF grade of 63.7, whereas Xavien Howard earned a grade of 87.3 . Howard currently makes about $1.5million less than Jones per year despite leading Jones in FF’s, PBU’s, INT’s, tackles, and catch%. Howard was also selected as first team All-Pro.
The third issue is guaranteed money. With 4 years remaining on his new contract, Howard only has $12 million left in guarantees. With Howard having a history of knee issues, it isn’t surprising he’d try to collect more guaranteed money.
Three Ways about it
Assuming the contract holdout is being caused by one of those three reasons, there are really only three things the Dolphins can do. They can restructure his deal now and pay him more starting in 2021, they can agree to play out the 2021 season and reevaluate next offseason, or they can trade him.
Extend Howard in the offseason
If Miami does decide to pay Howard more this season, they could give him a raise and convert much of it into a signing bonus. This would decrease his base salary, and the cap hit could drop from $13.5 million to $13.2 million. This would likely end up being a win-win situation. By giving him a signing bonus, they could make Howard the higher paid player among him and Byron Jones, which would be unprecedented leading to other players asking for more. For Miami, it would slightly help the cap situation which may ultimately come in handy with players like Mike Gesicki and Emmanuel Ogbah in line for paydays.
Play and re-evaluate
Playing out the 2021 season and reevaluating next season is more team friendly. With the salary cap being $182.5 million in 2021 and set to increase to $208.2 million in 2022, Miami would have a lot more flexibility in paying Howard and keeping other players.
This also gives Miami a lot more time to weigh other options and figure out other player’s contracts before Howard. With Howard showing no signs of returning, playing out the 2021 season with no change isn’t seeming likely. The Dolphins are adamant on keeping Howard in Miami, and taking a risk of souring the relationship but not paying him this season would not make sense for the Dolphins.
Trade and collect assets.
No Dolphins fan wants to believe this is a possibility. Luckily for those fans, it’s the least likely option as of now. In October, a team with interest in Howard called Miami, but those talks were shut down quickly.
According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Miami would need a “Laremy Tunsil type of offer” to consider trading him. If the team were to consider a trade at this time, they have plenty of leverage and no reason not to get close to a Tunsil like offer.
Howard is coming off a career year and All-Pro selection, played his first full season, and they have him under contract for 4 more years. However, even if they can get an offer like that, Miami would rather not have to get to that point.
We’re going to have to wait and find out what happens over the course of the next few months, but at this moment, a trade seems the least likely.
Most likely Miami could find a way to up Howard’s money for 2021 while simultaneously creating more space for the future, likely via signing bonus. Keeping the team’s best player happy until 2022 when the cap significantly increases and they can renegotiate then seems like Miami’s best option at this point.
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