By: Chip Turner
The growing discontent between All-Pro Cornerback Xavien Howard and the Miami Dolphins reached a new level on Tuesday evening, as Howard officially requested a trade. Howard and his agent are seeking a re-worked contract, and the Dolphins seem unwilling to acquiesce. So how did we get here, who’s to blame, and how will this all end?
How We Got Here:
Before the 2019 season, the Miami Dolphins extended Howard’s contract, making him the highest-paid CB in the league. He played in only 5 games in 2019, going on injured reserve in November. In 2020, however, Howard was completely healthy, and fulfilled the All-Pro potential the Dolphins invested in in 2020. His $12mm salary became fully guaranteed on March 19 of this year.
None of this is part of the disagreement. The disagreement, according to Howard’s statement Tuesday evening, seems to center around two main points:
1- Guaranteed Money: Xavien Howard has essentially received all of his guaranteed money from the Dolphins, and he’s looking for assurances in 2022. According to Howard, the 2019 contract was one that “he didn’t fully understand, or feel comfortable with.” (As a side note, I’ll suggest that Xavien word his statements a little more carefully in the future.)
2- Salary rank: Xavien Howard specifically mentioned in his statement that he’s the second-highest paid CB on his own team. So here we are – the situation has not been resolved, Howard states he doesn’t feel valued or respected, and has requested a trade.
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Who’s To Blame:
In this situation, as with many in the past, there is a bit of blame to spread around. Let’s get the first part out of the way, because the prevailing line of thought that keeps getting brought up is this: Nobody forced Xavien Howard to sign that contract in 2019. And that’s absolutely correct. So a good portion of that falls on Howard himself, as well as his former agent Damarius Bilbo. The issue with the contract is that if Howard has a down year, or if he’s badly injured (and there is decidedly an injury history with Howard), the Miami Dolphins owe him nothing in 2022. They can release Howard with less than a $3mm cap hit. (Note: There is a $6mm injury clause that kicks in if he’s unable to pass a team physical in 2022.)
At the time of the signing, the 2019 contract was short-sighted for Howard. Today, I’m sure it looks terrifying. The “not even the highest paid CB on my own team” bit simply doesn’t sit as well with me. It’s not as though Byron Jones is a scrub; he’s been an outstanding corner for years, and he signed with Miami more recently.
On the other hand, reports (and Howard’s side of the story) seem to indicate that the Dolphins simply do not want to set a precedent of re-working contracts this soon after signing. Again, this is understandable, but short-sighted if true. It’s understandable to not want to set a precedent, but the value Xavien Howard’s play brought to Miami’s defense didn’t just outperform his 2020 contract; it obliterated it. His 10 interceptions were an indicator of how well he played, but he was far more than just gaudy numbers; he completely shut down whomever he lined up against in man coverage.
If the Dolphins could have resolved the situation by adding guaranteed money around, or a small increase in pay, and they didn’t, then this is a case of cutting of their nose to spite their face. The difficulty is that we’re mostly working with one side of the story here; the Dolphins front office hasn’t gone public with their version of what has occurred. That in itself makes the situation worse; it certainly appears that the Dolphins tried very hard to keep discussions behind closed doors. Then, when negotiations stalled, Howard and his new agent David Canter went public with their displeasure. I suspect that did not go over well with the Dolphins front office.
And that’s the last person with blame to be held accountable, David Canter. As an agent, it’s his job to get his clients (and himself) paid. Make no mistake, David Canter has a very keen interest in getting Xavien Howard more money. And in this instance, David Canter and his client value money more than they value staying with the Miami Dolphins. That isn’t meant to be insulting; NFL players have a very short shelf life…but if we’re going to call a spade a spade, that works both ways.
How Will This All End?
I’m not Nostradamus (heck, I can’t even spell that without help), but things have gone off the rails here. Can the metaphorical ship be righted? Yes, and it’s been made clear that Miami still hopes something can be worked out.
Here are a few points to consider:
And that last point is really important. I haven’t felt as comfortable watching a Dolphins CB play since Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison roamed the secondary. I was giddy every time opposing QBs threw at him, because I knew there was a pretty good chance Howard was going to come away with the ball.
But as Howard pointed out very late in his statement, the NFL is a business, and if Howard gets severely injured or his production drops off a cliff, the Dolphins won’t keep him in 2022 under his current contract. And in the end, the Miami Dolphins will keep playing and keep striving for a championship, with or without him. I certainly hope it’s with him…but I don’t think it will be.