How Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard is still somehow unrecognized around the league as a top NFL corner is a mystery. Even with the elephant in the room that he plays for Miami (which somehow immediately removes any possible recognition he deserves), he's accomplished something practically unheard of: Howard has three games this season alone where he's caught two or more interceptions in a game (OAK, IND, BUF).
That's not even counting the two games he had last season where he caught two against the Denver Broncos and two against the New England Patriots...yes, that means Tom Brady.
“I’m the best corner in the league,” Howard declared after the game. “Look at my stats. There’s no doubt. Just watch the stats and watch my game.”
The stats are impossible to ignore. After intercepting rookie quarterback Josh Allen twice this past Sunday, Howard leads the NFL in interceptions with a grand total of 7, putting him ahead of Bears corner Kyle Fuller, who himself is widely respected in his field.
And yet, somehow Howard continues to go unnoticed.
“I don’t feel like I get recognized enough,” Howard said. “I’m going to let them know I’m the best corner in the game.”
He's been an incredible blessing for the Dolphins so far, keeping his team in games all by himself at times with his tight coverage and tendency to punish quarterbacks who feel it wise to challenge him.
This is also a curse, as well, but only because of the way Miami has handled situations like this in the past.
Consider this: Next season, 2019, will be Xavien Howard's final year on his rookie contract. He will count for a grand total of $1,949,830. After that, he will be a free agent and be allowed to test the market...and make no mistake, there will be a market for him, a big one, because even if the folks on ESPN and NFL Network don't notice it, other teams do...Howard is a stud, and he's only going to get better.
So what does this mean? It means that when the time comes to get Howard signed to a new contract, he'll be compared to the highest paid corners around, which includes Josh Norman ($15 million annually), Patrick Peterson, ($14,010,000), Trumaine Johnson ($14.5), Desmond Trufant ($13,750,000)...you get the idea.
This is what Howard's price range will be in by default, and you can be sure he'll be looking for a truckload of guaranteed money since that and base salary is the only money that really matters in the NFL.
Miami needs to get him locked up long-term. Now. This upcoming offseason at the very latest, or the number it will take to lock him up may grow out of control and out of range for Miami to retain him.
In 2019, the free agent corners who will be available - most notably - anyway - will be Morris Claiborne, Darqueze Dennard, Bradley Roby, Bryce Callahan and a few other decent names in there who are on the older side of things (Brent Grimes).
Not to discount these players, as they clearly have something to contribute to any NFL roster...but it would take some doing to convince some folks that they deserve to be on the list of the best of the best at corner. This is precisely why Miami needs to re-sign Howard now, before the market has a chance to inflate massively.
Because in 2020, Howard will become a free agent, and so will young studs Trae Waynes and Marcus Peters, unless they also sign an extension in the offseason. You'd better believe that teams will be bidding hard for them if they hit the open market, and Howard will be watching carefully to see what they get, and try to one-up them.
This is where Miami has failed in the past. They refused to extend Charles Clay - despite the fact that he was the most effective tight end they've had in years, and he still is, even in the face of his underwhelming performance in Buffalo. They failed to re-sign Olivier Vernon when he would have been more affordable, and let him go to New York for a fortune. He's a good player, but not a great one, and they waited for him to do enough where he could be paid like a great one.
Jarvis Landry was a huge part of the offense, even if his attitude tended to hurt more than help at times, but again Miami waited instead of extending him while he was affordable.
And for those who point out none of the aforementioned players are doing anything now...yes, I know, that's the problem. If they'd been re-signed earlier, it's not a stretch to assume they could have been had for salaries more worth their talent level, rather than some other team breaking the bank for them and putting them out of range.
It's time for the Dolphins to learn from their mistakes and re-sign Xavien Howard long-term before his price tag skyrockets beyond what they can afford. He's coming into his own as a star cornerback, a cornerstone if you will, possibly the best since Sam Madison and the No-Fly Zone.
It would be foolish to assume Howard will just not perform as well in the final year of his rookie contract and drive his price down...the kind of slump he would need to have would do more to convince the world he shouldn't be signed at all; he's going to continue to get better, and more expensive as a result.
He's in range now, Miami Dolphins, don't let him escape like you've let so many others. Star players don't come around every year. When you hit, keep them.
But it's only going to get harder the longer they wait, and now that Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald is reporting that Howard hired a new agent - the infamous Damarious Bilbo, who negotiated on behalf of Jarvis Landry, expect the negotiation to be a tough one.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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