Changing the starting quarterback wasn’t the only major issue discussed by the Miami Dolphins decision-makers during the team’s bye week.
Along with handing the team’s starting quarterback job to Tua Tagovailoa, the Dolphins brain trust also discussed whether or not standout cornerback Xavien Howard will be part of the franchise’s future, even though the organization signed him to a five-year deal worth $75.25 million before the 2019 season.
According a league source, the Dolphins are fielding offers for the Pro Bowl talent, who has pulled down four interceptions in the past four games, and 16 interceptions in the 39 games he’s played since the 2017 season.
The source said the Dolphins already have an offer on the table for Howard, and are seriously considering moving the 27-year-old before the NFL trade deadline, which is next Tuesday at 4 p.m.
The Dolphins released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying that they are, “not exploring any trades regarding Xavien Howard.”
Howard, who is 10 months removed from having his left knee surgically repaired, hasn’t requested a trade, according a source. But he does wonder if the team views him as an important part of what general manger Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores are building.
The Dolphins signed Byron Jones to a five-year, $82.5 million deal this past offseason, and then selected former Auburn standout Noah Igbinoghene with the 30th pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft.
Igbinoghene played significant snaps in the first four games while Jones was recovering from a groin strain. But Igbinoghene’s struggles — primarily in Miami’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks — led to the rookie losing playing time.
And the Dolphins also have Nik Needham, who started 11 games last season as an undrafted rookie, developing as the team’s nickel cornerback.
However, it is Howard who has served as the defense’s top playmaker this season.
He’s contributed 11 tackles, four interceptions and six pass deflections in the six games he’s played this season. He’s been targeted 26 times and has allowed 12 completions according to Pro Football Focus.
On Tuesday morning secondary coach Gerald Alexander pointed out there have been a couple of games opposing offenses haven’t completed a pass thrown Howard’s way.
“The fact that he’s back there and doing a great job and when they do try to test him, he’s coming down with the ball, it makes us very opportunistic,” Alexander said. “Obviously, (it) feeds our defense so other guys can possibly get turnovers as well.”
This wouldn’t be the first time the Dolphins traded a prominent player during Flores’ two-year tenure.
Miami shipped left tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills to the Houston Texans for a package of picks and players that still hasn’t been completely fulfilled since the Dolphins own Houston’s first- and second-round picks in the 2021 draft.
And last year around this time, Miami traded safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Pittsburgh Steelers after he expressed concern with how he was being used and the 2018 first-round pick requested a trade. The Dolphins got a 2019 first-round pick, a 2020 fourth-round pick and a 2021 seventh-round selection for Fitzpatrick, a 2020 fifth-round pick and a 2021 sixth-round selection.
Fitzpatrick then delivered a Pro Bowl caliber season for the Steelers, who made him their starting free safety.
Miami would likely try to get at least a first-round pick — or something equivalent to it — for Howard before next Tuesday’s deadline, or a player of similar stature, like the New England Patriots’ Stephon Gilmore, a cornerback who is reportedly also on the trade block.
Gilmore thrived in New England with Flores as his defensive play-caller, and Flores has consistently praised the three-time Pro Bowler and the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, as the type of defender he wants to build his secondary around.
Even if Howard isn’t moved by next Tuesday, it is not out of the realm of possibilities that Miami would try to trade him in the upcoming offseason.
Whichever team trades for Howard will inherit his $12.1 million salary in 2021, which became fully guaranteed at the start of this season. He’s slated to earn $12.475 million in base salary and workout bonuses in 2022, $11.5 million in base salary and workout bonuses in 2023, and $11.75 in 2024. All those years feature $500,000 in roster bonuses for games played, but only the 2021 salary is fully guaranteed. Howard does have $7 million of his 2022 salary guaranteed for injury.
Howard is the NFL’s sixth highest-paid cornerback, sitting behind Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Baltimore Ravens’ Marlon Humphrey, Buffalo Bills’ Tre’Davious White, Philadelphia Eagles’ Darius Slay and Jones, and his base salaries per season are quite manageable.
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