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NFL Draft

What’s A Realistic Trade Package For Xavien Howard?

  • The Draft Network
  • June 18, 2021
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The Miami Dolphins officially have a holdout on their hands. The complicated case of cornerback Xavien Howard’s contract situation has come to a head after months of rumors and speculation, with Howard opting to skip the team’s mandatory minicamp this past week in Davie. Howard, who signed a five-year contract extension with the team in the summer of 2019 with one year remaining on his rookie contract, saw a lot of his guaranteed money on the front end of that extension and now suddenly finds himself outside the top 10 cornerbacks in football as it pertains to “new cash” for 2020, 2021, and 2022. And, after Howard logged the NFL’s first 10-plus interception season in over a decade while finally staying healthy enough to complete a full 16-game season, that doesn’t sit well with the soon-to-be 28-year-old All-Pro. 

What further exacerbates the situation is that Howard isn’t even the highest-paid cornerback on his own team. The Dolphins inked Byron Jones in free agency last spring to a deal that averages more per season and pays out more annual value in the immediate future than Howard’s commitments. 

We explored two weeks ago whether or not the Dolphins should meet Howard’s wishes for a new deal. But if the team ultimately decides that, one year into a five-year commitment, they’re not going to “renegotiate” the extension, as head coach Brian Flores worded it this past week, they’ll really only have two options left. They can either call Howard’s bluff and see if he’s willing to miss game checks in the name of getting a raise, or they can grant a different request from Howard’s camp, which is potentially next if there is no traction by the beginning of August: 

A trade request. 

Dolphins fans are, understandably, split on the idea. Howard was a monster in 2020 in coverage and helped change the tide of a number of football games Miami went on to win. But Howard’s timing for a new deal, just one year down and four to go, is ambitious and, in the eyes of some, abrasive. Never mind that Howard will be 28 years old this season and has a lengthy history of knee injuries that have cost him 24 games played over five seasons in the league—that’s 30% of every game he’s been eligible to play in.

A trade request from Howard now wouldn’t be the first time that the cornerback’s name has been dangled or inquired about according to some reports. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Miami fielded a call for Howard at the 2020 NFL trade deadline, but their expectation for compensation was in line with what the team received for left tackle Laremy Tunsil in a mega-deal with the Houston Texans in 2019.

“The Miami Dolphins have taken a call on star cornerback Xavien Howard, but it would take a "Laremy Tunsil type" of offer to pry him loose. Miami famously traded Tunsil and Stills to Houston last year for a package that included two first-round draft picks and a second-rounder.” — ESPN’s Adam Schefter, November 1, 2020

In a perfect world for Miami, that’s exactly what they could bring back for Howard if the cornerback does demand a trade and the Dolphins aren’t willing to renegotiate his contract. But thanks to some of the previously mentioned dynamics of Howard’s age, health, and durability, that seems like a pipedream. Howard’s talent level and instincts in coverage are certainly worth that price tag or one that is equivalent to what the Los Angeles Rams gave up for star cornerback Jalen Ramsey. That trade with Jacksonville sent two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick to Jacksonville for the star cornerback. But again, consider the difference in their individual profiles at the time of a potential deal. Ramsey was 24 at the time of his trade to Los Angeles and still playing on his rookie contract. The Rams eventually went on to pay Ramsey but not before finishing out the 2019 season with him on his rookie deal. Financially, he was cheaper for his year-one play on the field by a significant margin. 

Howard is 28, has played in five more games over five seasons in Miami than Ramsey played in three and a quarter seasons in Jacksonville and is already on his second contract while expecting a third one—and expecting it immediately.

Teams will use these dynamics to try to talk down the price on Howard in a deal. Miami has all the leverage in the world, however. With four years remaining on his current deal, the team should consider themselves in no rush to move on from Howard if he attempts to full-court press his way out of Miami in order to get paid. Miami can recoup finances lost (and can fine Howard $93,000 already for skipping mandatory minicamp) for games missed. And four years is a long, long time—particularly for a cornerback who has the durability concerns in his rear-view mirror that could well be an indicator of Father Time coming sooner rather than later for Howard’s prime. 

And that’s where the rubber meets the road in this unique standoff. Miami doesn’t have to trade Howard. But the team didn’t have to trade safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, either. Nor did the team have to trade Tunsil in 2019. But they did because a team was willing to meet their desired price and make it worth their while. 

So make no mistake: the Dolphins won’t be giving Howard away. Trading him for a day-two draft selection would be senseless given Miami’s leverage and Howard’s high-water mark as a player. For the Dolphins, a holdout is coming at an ideal time if the team is receptive to trading him. 2020 first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene is waiting in the wings and the team added Jason McCourty as further insurance at cornerback and Howard’s value as an NFL asset will literally never be higher than it is right now. Because amid the durability concerns, the knee history, and the raise Howard is looking for, he did in fact play in 16 games last season and had 10 interceptions with another 20 passes defensed. His play last year was better statistically than Stephon Gilmore’s Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 2019. 

So in summary: 

  • Miami has the contractual leverage with four years of control left on Howard’s deal
  • Howard has more perceived value than he likely ever will again after playing all 16 games and posting the most productive season in a decade as a coverage defender generating turnovers 
  • Miami has a track record of trading away quality talent if the compensation is enough to meet and go beyond their expectations in compensation
  • Teams have been confirmed to have called Miami regarding Howard’s availability at the 2020 trade deadline, although Miami reportedly asked for a “Tunsil-sized” package in return
  • Howard’s durability issues in the past are something to consider, as any team acquiring him (or even Miami retaining him) is betting that his extensive track record of injury is fully behind him despite him nearing the 30-year-old age wall for cornerbacks

In acknowledging all that, we can finally answer the question: what could/should the Dolphins be willing to accept in a trade offer for Howard? 

If the Dolphins think they’re going to get a Tunsil-sized package out of this exchange (two first-round picks and a second-round pick), they either feel like they’ve found a sucker in the room to take advantage of as they did with Houston or they’re overly optimistic. But some of the other trade proposals featuring no first-round pick at all feel like a waste of time for Miami. The answer likely falls in the middle: Miami should most likely be willing to take an offer for Howard that features a 2022 first-round draft choice and some change—not more because it’s unlikely with Howard’s uncertainty any team would be willing to offer it, and not less because that’s a “throw away” of an All-Pro talent for Miami. 

But if the Dolphins were offered a first- and second-round pick or a first- and third-round pick, the team would need to think long and hard about their timetable for winning and where Howard fits into that mix over the next three-to-five-year window. And if Miami feels their winning window (and job security) is on the longer end of that timetable, perhaps the best move to make is to accept that level of a competitive offer. 

But if the Dolphins think their window to win is here right now? Then calling Howard’s bluff and maintaining their control over him as a player under contract, even in forsaking multiple top-100 draft choices (including a first-round choice) is likely the move that makes the most sense.

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