Sunday, August 1, 2021

Hurricane Xavien Howard. The Next Big Decision

In a season which ended without the Dolphins in the playoffs, there where glimpses of what Coach Flores’s defence could achieve and the heights it could reach, and at the spearhead of this eye catching defence was cornerback #25, Xavien Howard.

Howard signed a 5 year contract at $75 Million back in 2019 making him the highest paid cornerback in the league at that time. Since then he has slipped to 6th in the most paid cornerback list, 1 spot behind fellow cornerback Byron Jones who signed a 5-year $82.5 Million contract back in the 2020 offseason, with Jalen Ramsey being the highest paid cornerback at 7-years $100 Million. 

Following Howard’s best season where he saw 10 interceptions and a passer rating of 45.3, the lowest among all cornerbacks in the league in 2020, rumours are circulating that he could ask for a new contract, and going from his performances last season, he would be entitled to demand one. However, would this be the best thing for Miami entering year 3 of their rebuild?

Where is Xavien Howard’s stock?

In order to answer that question, let’s take a deeper dive into the career of Xavien Howard & other players in the league.  Selected at pick #38, round 2 out of Baylor in the 2016 draft, Howard’s rookie season saw him play 7 games, before a knee injury that required surgery saw him miss the remainder of the season. In 2017 he played the full 16 games, with 4 interceptions. 2018 saw him play 12 games and miss the remaining 4 with another knee injury, with 2019 saw him play only 5 games before another knee injury sent him to IR for the 3rd time in 4 seasons, see a recurring theme yet? 

Now 2020 saw him play the full season for only the 2nd time in 5 seasons, but this being his career year where he was snubbed for defensive player of the year, with only 2 votes, much to the shock of plenty of fans. That equates to Howard playing 56 games for Miami, missing 24, playing 70% of games in his career.

Comparing this to other cornerbacks in the league who are similar to his age, experience & contract, Byron Jones (2 games missed), Darius Slay (9 games missed), Jalen Ramsey (3 games missed), James Bradbury (4 games missed) & Stephon Gilmore (17 games missed), his knees and injury worries are an area of concern.

Now reaching 28 years old, his proverbial stock as a cornerback wouldn’t get higher than this and  his prime is arguably right now for Xavien Howard, and with the average retirement age of cornerback’s being roughly 32, no one can blame him for wanting to cash in on a career year, especially with a new agent since he signed his contract in 2019. So what could Howard demand?

In 2021 he is contracted to make $13.5 Million, with his team mate Byron Jones making $16.1 Million, and considering he out performed Jones last season, he would argue that he is worth more than that and easily north of $18 to $19 Million, he could even reset the league in a contract extension and ask for more than Ramsey with $22.5 Million for the 2021 season at least, so the debate begins.

How much is a cornerback who’s prime playing days are right now, with a long history of knee issues worth? Arguably he is worth every single dollar for the interceptions and his ability to turn the game on its head and shift momentum towards Miami in a game, but, that ever big 3 letter word, when he plays.

Let’s play a little game of hypotheticals, especially as it is the season for it. What could Miami get if he was traded and what would his impact mean to the team and the salary cap? If Howard was traded, before the draft and 1st June, Miami would accrue $4.2 Million in dead cap space money, and save $9.3 Million against the cap, leaving a total gain of $5.1 Million saved. If he was traded after 1st June, he would accrue just $1.4 Million of dead cap space money, saving a whopping $12.1 Million against the cap space, according to overthecap.com. 

Now let’s take a look at some recent trades. Darius Slay was traded to the Eagles from the Lions for a 2020 3rd round (#85) and 2020 5th round (#165) for him. Jalen Ramsey was traded to LA from the Jags for 2020 1st round pick, 2021 1st round pick and a 2021 4th round pick. AJ Bouye went to Denver from the Jags for a 2020 4th round pick. From those recent examples, one stands out head and shoulders above the rest, Jalen Ramsey. 

Now the dedicated Miami fan based will want that type of trade if Howard was to be traded, but arguably with his injury history, he wouldn’t even get close to that. However, asking for just a 1st round pick this year, or multiple picks maybe a 2nd round and a 4th round pick, or maybe even a day 2 or day 3 pick this year and a 1st round pick in 2022 could be feasibly possible.

Whichever way you look at it, Howard’s trade stock would not be higher than what it is right now, and as Branch Rickey said “I’d rather a trade a player a year too early, than a year too late”. Furthermore, the question then asks how much faith does Coach Flores have in his other cornerbacks like Noah Igbinoghene to replace Howard, or do you draft a perimeter cornerback this year?

With this impending decision looming on the horizon for Miami for Xavien Howard, it would be a decisive one for GM Chris Grier and Coach Flores on the direction of the team, but one that from the turnaround the team has had, would be for the best for the team irrespective of the outcome.

Could a cornerback needy team, like 49ers, Saints or Broncos come knocking and give Miami an offer they cant refuse? Will Howard demand too much from Miami in his contract or will he be more team orientated? Only time will tell, but like most storms and hurricanes in Miami, the threat of it is looming and we should brace ourselves for it.

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Thomas Wood
NFL fantasy geek, Miami Dolphins finatic, American Football Player, Football watcher.

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