10 Cowboys who could be traded and though unlikely, CB Xavien Howard not impossible to acquire

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The Dallas Cowboys are knee-deep into their 2021 training camp and the trek out of the swamp that was last season has begun. That starts with the coaching staff learning what assets they have on the team and which holes they may need to look elsewhere to fulfill. Without fail, surprises and disappointments litter the roster and the front office is tasked with either trying to fix a deficit or capitalize on a surplus. Sometimes there’s a deal to be made but most times nothing comes of it. While fan fiction about star-studded deals run rampant, the majority of these deals are with players down the roster.

But sometimes, the rare big-name unicorn trade comes into focus. Such a move either ships out high-profile talent, brings it in, or both. Could this be the case with the 2021 Cowboys? After a public trade demand, Miami corner Xavien Howard has been topic du jour among salivating Cowboys fans. On a scale of 1-10 the likelihood the team would acquire the league’s leading interceptor barely registers as, to use a baseball term, a crooked number. But queue up Lloyd Christmas, because we’re saying there’s a chance.

Backstory on Howard wanting out of Miami

Howard went to social media to demand a trade from the Dolphins. Prior to the 2019 season, he signed a lucrative extension with Miami, one which still after two additional offseasons has him as the sixth-highest paid cornerback in the league (on average salary) at $15 million per season. His general complaint is he stands as the best corner on his team, but not the highest paid after the Dolphins inked Byron Jones in the 2020 offseason to a deal worth $16 million a season. Initial response, including from this writer, was astonishment. Howard's right in a sense. The sixth-year veteran outplayed Jones who had a down season and although he was routinely shied away from by QBs while in Dallas, Jones has never been an interceptor. Howard was targeted 5.6 times a game vs 4.4 for Jones in 2020, so despite him finishing with 10 interceptions, QBs did still throw at the former a solid amount. The catch, of course, is that Howard shadows the other team's top receiver across the field so naturally the volume is going to be higher. His play resulted in 10 interceptions in 2020 and 18 over his last 33 games, leading the league in 2018 as well. “The assignments I’m given, shadowing the opposition’s best player with little help, proves my value, my worth,” Howard wrote on Instagram. “Yet I’m the second-highest paid cornerback on my own team and it’s not even close.”

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

While the average salaries are close, Jones' deal included $46 million in guarantees while Howard's had just $27 million. That seems like a beef he should have with his representation, but his asks of the organization to rectify the situation don't seem egregious, as laid out in this Miami Herald article from Almando Salguero. Howard asked on separate occasions for the Dolphins to move $4 million from the backend of the deal to the 2021 season or guarantee his 2022 salary. It is these parameters, where Dallas would be able to work within the structure of his remaining contract that open a window into how this could get done.

Howard's current deal and potential rework

Before a conversation about what Dallas would have to send back to Miami, the numbers would have to make sense. Right now, Dallas has around $5.4 million in remaining cap space according to Over The Cap. Howard's current deal is as follows:

Current Remaining Salary Details

From OverTheCap

Year

Base Salary + Bonuses

Prorated SB

G'teed

Cap Number

Age

2021

$12,100,000

$1,400,000

$12,075,000

$13,500,000

28

2022

$12,975,000

$1,400,000

$0

$14,375,000

29

2023

$12,000,000

$1,400,000

$0

$13,400,000

30

2024

$12,250,000

$0

$0

$12,250,000

31

TOTAL

$49,325,000

$4,200,000

$12,075,000

$53,525,000

In a trade, the signing bonus amount stays with the previous team, so Dallas would be absorbing the four years and $49.3 million remaining in base salary and bonus, with only the 2021 base salary guaranteed. Between adding $4 million to 2021 and guaranteeing his 2022 base salary, it's not a difficult thing for an acquiring team to work out. Howard is basically looking for $28 million to $29 million guaranteed over the next two years. Dallas can accomplish that by giving him a signing bonus which also helps them deal with absorbing his cap hit. Here's one potential restructure that should appease Howard and his representation as it not only accomplishes those things, but leaves his 2024 salary intact.

Proposed Howard Restructure

From @KDDrummondNFL: 4 years with voidable 5th season, restructure trigger for 2022

Year

Base Salary + Bonuses

Prorated SB

G'teed

Cap Number

Age

2021

$6,000,000

$2,000,000

$16,000,000

$8,000,000

28

2022

$8,975,000

$3,000,000

$12,975,000

$11,975,000

29

2023

$12,000,000

$3,000,000

$0

$15,000,000

30

2024

$12,250,000

$3,000,000

$0

$15,250,000

31

2025 VOID

$0

$3,000,000

$0

$3,000,000

31

TOTAL

$39,225,000

$14,000,000

$28,975,000

$53,225,000

In this scenario, Howard would see more money over the next four seasons than he would've in Miami and he has the next two years of his deal guaranteed and with $4 million more cash in hand than what his current deal has.

How would Howard fit in Dallas

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Although they are not proven, it is becoming apparent there is a logjam forming at cornerback. Dallas drafted Trevon Diggs in the second round last season, then turned around and drafted Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright in the second and third rounds this offseason. Anthony Brown is currently a top-10 cap hit for Dallas and stands in the way of Joseph starting. Meanwhile the newly-installed Dan Quinn regime re-signed Jourdan Lewis to man the slot. So how could they even consider adding Howard? Here's how. While Howard mirrors the opposing team's top wideouts, past the midway point of 2020, the Dolphins were a top-5 team when it came to running Cover 3 coverage schemes; the base principle of Quinn's defense. Making the case that a transition wouldn't be difficult, he's led the league in interceptions under two different coaching regimes in Miami. He also has played two-thirds of his snaps out of the left corner position. Diggs plays right corner for the Cowboys; Howard would fit in nicely. https://twitter.com/MattBowen41/status/1326699068182192129 It's already being discussed that Brown might find himself as the odd man out of a starting gig with Joseph's strong start to training camp. https://twitter.com/KDDrummondNFL/status/1421573736889733121 Brown could be included in a deal to acquire Howard, but clearly not the key component. The bigger deal is how acquiring Howard impacts the younger players. Joseph, however, has some slot experience. In fact, he plays all over the secondary for Kentucky. Here's Dane Brugler of The Athletic's scouting report on Joseph.

Loose-hipped athlete to easily flip and stay on the same plane vertically…plays with sudden twitch and easy speed to match receivers from start to finish…squats on routes in off-coverage, using his drive explosion to arrive before the ball…above average ball awareness and gets his head turned to find the quarterback…looks like a wide receiver with top ball skills making plays on the football…aggressive at the catch point and plays through the hands of the target…settles his feet to stay balanced as a tackler and see who he hits…competes with supreme confidence…experienced inside, outside and has the skill set to play any position in the secondary…finished second in the SEC with four interceptions (in only nine games) in 2020.

Well that's certainly something. If the Cowboys were to acquire Howard, and if they do it quickly with a month left in training camp, they could consider making Joseph a slot corner for the next couple seasons, and the primary backup at left corner. Wright is already working at right corner, meaning the Cowboys have depth at both boundary positions with Lewis as the dime defender and backup slot. All of a sudden, the Cowboys would go from one of the worst secondaries in the league to one with a ton of immediate and long-term potential. Howard could be shown the door after 2022 or 2023, moving Joseph back to the boundary and in time to pony up to keep Diggs as a long-term guy with an extension should his play warrant it. Using the numbers from above, a Jun 1 2022 release of Howard would gain them $12 million of space with a $6 million dead money hit on 2023, when the cap is expected to balloon after the league gets out of the revenue loss from the Covid season of 2020. If they held onto him in 2022, then there's just $3 million of dead money in each of 2023 and 2024; a pittance. Now, the topic of what else Dallas would need to give up comes into play.

Cowboys-Dolphins Trade Proposal

(AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

Clearly Anthony Brown isn't going to move the needle for the Dolphins on his own; they'd hang up. But if he was part of a package? That might be more interesting. During the draft, rumors surfaced that Dallas was looking to shop Jaylon Smith to Miami in order to move up from No. 10. A second rumor spun off of that where Dallas had previously rebuffed a Dolphins inquiry to let Smith go heading into last season. Whether or not the second rumor is true, the two sides have clearly been linked together on the topic of swapping Smith. So what if the Cowboys were to package Smith, Brown and a 2022 second-round selection? Would that entice the Dolphins to trade their disgruntled star?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys would be sending Miami $11.4 million in base salary between the two, a close-enough swap for Howard's $12.1 million. And though Brown is nowhere near the caliber player, he would give them a veteran corner to join the rotation behind Jones that already includes Jason McCourty and 2020 first round pick Noah Igbinoghene. Smith would be an inside linebacker in their 3-4 defense along with 2018 third-round pick Jerome Baker. The key of course is the 2022 second-round pick and the fact that with neither Smith nor Brown having any guaranteed money remaining after 2021, the Dolphins could walk away from either at any point.

Non-Howard trade thoughts

While an exercise for a star player is always fun to sort through, it's more than likely any move Dallas makes will be with much less fanfare. Sometimes there's an up and comer who another team was interested in that year's draft. Maybe they're buried on the depth chart at a deep position, like current Kansas City starting CB Donovan Olumba was with the Cowboys. Regardless, there are some guys who might be under the radar now but could net someone seen as more useful to Dallas. Here's a look at 10 Cowboys who could be on the block over the next month.

LB Jaylon Smith

Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

For those who only look at volume stats, the idea that Smith is not living up to his reputation is confusing. He tallied 154 tackles in 2020, but where tackles are made in comparison to where they could have been made is a big part of the story with Smith. His missteps and misdiagnosis are apparent to those who watch film closely and his coverage deficiencies are difficult to overcome. His sizable salary make moving him tougher for both Dallas and an acquiring club. He's owned $7.2 million, $9.2 million, $11 million, $11 million and $12.4 million over the next five years, but none of that is guaranteed beyond 2021. For the Cowboys, there would be $6.8 million of dead money in 2022, meaning they'd save his 2021 base ($7.2M) and add $2.4 million of space next season after the wash.

LB Leighton Vander Esch

(AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

LVE is reportedly having a great camp, but ability has never been the question. Availability is the issue and why Dallas didn't extend him the fifth-year option. If the front office is too enamored with Smith for marketing purposes, perhaps it's Vander Esch who could be shipped off?

CB Anthony Brown

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

As referenced earlier, it just feels like Brown is raging against the obvious phasing out. He was re-signed by the team prior to the 2020 draft and since that point Dallas has spent three Day-2 picks on the position and the new regime re-signed Jourdan Lewis. If he's moved there's just $1.5 million dead money this year and the same in 2022, but Dallas would rid themselves of $4.25 million and $5 million in base salaries those years.

TE Blake Jarwin

(AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

The Cowboys have yet to reap the rewards of the extension they gave Jarwin, but with Dalton Schultz' emergence last season and the camp emergence of second-year UDFA Sean McKeon, perhaps the club could save some money here. Jarwin is set to make $4.25 million in salary and bonuses in 2021, $4.5 million in 2022 and $5.5 million in 2023. https://twitter.com/KDDrummondNFL/status/1419660264342007811

CB Maurice Canady

(AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

By all accounts Canady is having a phenomenal camp in 2021. After signing as a free agent last year, he opted out of 2020, but he's impressing a regime that didn't bring him in. Currently CB5 or CB6 on the depth chart, he could find himself in a trade package of some sort depending on what other moves are made at the position and how well a guy like Wright plays in the preseason.

DT Trysten Hill

Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys haven't been able to get much out of Hill. If he can get on the field during the preseason to prove he's healthy from his ACL tear last season, he could be a candidate to go. The regime which drafted him is long gone, and now so is the one which saw him start to emerge some last season.

WR Michael Gallup

Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

It's not likely the club is interested in diminishing the one position group they lord over the rest of the NFL in, but it could happen. On the final year of his rookie deal, Gallup is likely viewed as a rental to an acquiring team, making him less valuable in a trade then he would be for Dallas. Still, the possibility remains so he has to be included in this list, despite the fact that Amari Cooper hasn't yet practiced all camp with his ankle issue.

WR Cedrick Wilson

(AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The Cowboys are top heavy at receiver and while Wilson was their gadget man in 2020, the club may be interested in developing fifth-round pick Simi Fehoko or one of last year or this year's UDFAs, potentially making Wilson expendable. Of course, if any of the 300 downline wide receivers make noise during preseason, they too could be part of a lower-tiered trade move.

DE Bradlee Anae

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Another player from the previous regime, Anae couldn't get into the games last season. Seen as a motor guy with average athleticism, if Quinn and company can't find a role in the rotation for him, perhaps there's a suitor who liked him in last year's draft that's interested in acquiring his services.

OL Brandon Knight

(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

We're using Knight here, but he really represents a number of young offensive linemen who don't appear to have a path to a starting gig anytime in the near future. Downline linemen are always on the move. Knight started several games for the Cowboys in their miserable 2020 campaign. He was okay, but there may be something another offensive line coach sees that could lead to a role somewhere else. Dallas has already moved him inside to guard, so there's potential in many ways.

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