The Dolphins and Xavien Howard remain at odds, so this week we analyze the contenders should Miami deal its star corner, including:
- One NFC West team in particular with a big need at corner
- A team that’s already made a blockbuster deal this offseason
- A darkhorse from the NFC
Around The Trade Block: Xavien Howard
With less than a week to go until the start of training camp, it doesn’t appear that there’s been any resolution to the rift between the Dolphins and star CB Xavien Howard. The defensive player of the year candidate remains miffed that he’s the second-highest-paid corner on his own team, while Miami understandably is hesitant to rework a deal that still has four seasons remaining on it.
We’ll get some movement at the start of training camp as Howard faces a choice to either report on time or hold out and subject himself to severe fines under the new CBA. There’s a long road for Howard to actually get out of Miami but what does it look like if we skip ahead several steps to the end?
Miami will have no shortage of suitors for Howard, but these are the teams who should be the most motivated to make it happen:
The NFC West is in a Cold War-style arms race with the four teams in the division vying to contend every year. So if any big-name player becomes available, you can bet every team in the division will be looking into it. Out of the bunch, though, I think Arizona makes the most sense as trade partners for Howard.
For starters, the Cardinals’ biggest need is in the secondary, as their cornerback group is in flux with the departure of Patrick Peterson. They brought in Malcolm Butler and they’ll give Robert Alford another shot but Howard has vied for DPOY in multiple seasons and would be an immense upgrade. There’s some built-in familiarity as well with Cardinals DC Vance Joseph, who held the same position in Miami during Howard’s rookie season. For Miami, getting Howard out of the conference is a nice perk.
Acquiring Howard wouldn’t be cheap, as it makes no sense for the Dolphins to give him up for less than a first-round pick and more. Two firsts is probably fair looking back at deals for players like Jalen Ramsey and Jamal Adams. And that’s not taking into account the financials, as Howard already has a sizable contract and presumably will want a raise contingent on any trade.
But it’s not crazy for the Cardinals to get aggressive as they look for the final pieces to morph into true championship contenders. They have QB Kyler Murray on a rookie deal which affords them some financial flexibility, and Howard is the type of piece worth dedicating resources to long-term.
Arizona also features some legit front seven players in Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt, so adding an elite cover man like Howard on the back end should have a cascading impact on the defense as a whole. If Howard ends up on the block, it’s easy to foresee Arizona as one of the leading contenders in any deal.
Moving elsewhere in the NFC West, the Seahawks enter 2021 expecting to contend for a Super Bowl. The offense should be the strength of the team with Russell Wilson, his collection of weapons and a reinforced offensive line. On the other side of the ball, the defensive line is deep and the team is strong through the middle of the field at linebacker and safety with Bobby Wagner and a healthy Adams.
The Achilles heel you can point to, however, is cornerback. Shaquill Griffin is gone and Seattle is leaning on Ahkello Witherspoon, Tre Flowers and D.J. Reed in the secondary. Howard would obviously be a major, major upgrade.
Price is an understandable stumbling block. The Seahawks have tended to philosophically de-emphasize major investments in cornerbacks, trusting in the scheme and coaching staff’s ability to develop players to make up for it. 2021 is a crucial year for the long-term future of the franchise and its marriage with Wilson, however, so perhaps it makes sense to be more aggressive in ensuring a leaky secondary doesn’t submarine the season.
Some beat reports have indicated the Saints would be involved in any potential Howard trade should things get to that point with Miami. The Saints still fancy themselves contenders even without Drew Brees and the biggest weakness for them right now is the No. 2 corner spot across from Marshon Lattimore.
Should New Orleans swing a trade for Howard, he’d obviously be the No. 1, but is that even practical for a cap-strapped Saints team? Well for now the Saints are actually 15th in the NFL in active cap space with $11.379 million. Howard’s base salary is $12.075 million, but the Saints could lower that and still give him his raise as a part of any deal.
It’d be interesting to see what tradeoffs adding another high-priced player like Howard would have for New Orleans. Lattimore, S Marcus Williams and LT Terron Armstead, along with both quarterbacks, are on expiring contracts and the Saints have a $37 million hole to dig out of. It’s easy to see a move like this making 2021 the last season for Lattimore with the Saints.
Still, this is the type of aggressive maneuver you can’t rule out from New Orleans.
With Mahomes on the books, the Chiefs do need to think long and hard about giving up draft picks that can turn into valuable, cheap contributors on rookie contracts for a high-priced asset like Howard. Their secondary also isn’t in bad shape, which lessens the urgency. Kansas City has done a decent job of finding young, unheralded cornerbacks who have played well for them. Charvarius Ward, L’Jarius Sneed and Rashad Fenton aren’t household names (yet) but it’s a competent group, with some upside in former first-round picks Mike Hughes and Deandre Baker looking for career revivals behind them.
Howard would be on another level, however. For a team like the Chiefs who have a wide-open championship window, that type of aggressive move to get a legitimate difference-maker can’t ever be counted out.
Unlike the rest of the teams on this list, the Eagles aren’t a contender looking for the final piece to push over the top. They do have a glaring need at cornerback, however, and three first-round picks to play with. Eagles GM Howie Roseman is one of the league’s more aggressive general managers, so they can’t be ruled out of any blockbuster trade.
There are a number of stumbling blocks, though. Philadelphia would have to rework Howard’s contract because they’re already paying big bucks to Darius Slay and would want to avoid the same situation Miami finds itself in. That’s a big chunk of the salary cap to just two players and one position.
Philadelphia might also want to preserve its flexibility to pursue a quarterback via trade with those first-round picks. They’ve been mentioned as contenders for Deshaun Watson if his legal situation resolves itself and could use those picks to move up in the draft. Ultimately, Howard doesn’t make as much sense for where the Eagles are as a team compared to some other teams on this list.
The trade for Julio Jones signals the Titans are all-in on contending. Cornerback isn’t a glaring weakness but it’s also not settled. Veteran Janoris Jenkins has one outside spot locked up. 2020 second-rounder Kristian Fulton played a fair amount of nickel corner last season and he’ll have some competition from third-round slot corner Elijah Molden. The Titans are hopeful first-round CB Caleb Farley is healthy enough to lock down the other outside spot but Howard would be an upgrade over anyone else in this group.
Is it a big enough upgrade for the Titans to fork over another package of premium picks to acquire Howard? That’s harder to say. Given their situation, you have to think Tennessee would at least kick the tires on a trade for Howard. But it stands to reason the Dolphins would ask for more from the Titans than they would from other teams given they’re both in the AFC, so Tennessee is probably just a dark horse at best in any potential negotiations.
While I’d expect the 49ers to look into a potential deal for Howard given they’re far from set at the cornerback position, the asking price ultimately might be too much given the blockbuster trade they’ve already pulled off this offseason.
Same story as San Francisco, the Rams don’t have a first-round pick until 2024 after trading for Matthew Stafford this offseason. While I’m sure the idea of pairing Howard and Ramsey is appealing to the front office, this is a limiting factor.
This Week In Football
- We’re just days away from the start of Packers training camp and some news one way or another on the Aaron Rodgers saga. We did learn a couple of new things this week, though. One was not necessarily that the Packers had offered to make Rodgers the NFL’s highest-paid player — that had already been out there to some degree for several weeks. The details of how things proceeded, with Green Bay continuing to drag their feet and Rodgers repeatedly rebuffing them, are new information, however. I still couldn’t really tell you how this is going to go, it’s hard to get a good read one way or another. All I can say is buckle up.
- Injuries suck. There’s no other way to put it. And there was a brutal one this week with the Rams losing budding RB Cam Akers to a torn Achilles. It will knock him out for the rest of this season and the history of backs who have suffered this injury is ugly. Medical science has lessened the number of injuries that can be considered career-ending, but Akers faces an uphill battle. If there’s a silver lining, he’s younger and more talented than some other backs who have suffered this injury recently. Meanwhile, the Rams will try to cobble a running game together with Darrell Henderson and Xavier Jones, for now.
- Most of the NFL world has operated under the assumption last season was TE Zach Ertz’s final one with the Eagles. Ertz himself was under that impression if his end-of-season presser last year is any indication. But after Philadelphia held tight to him the entire offseason after not getting a deal it thought was good enough, Ertz will report to the start of training camp. Ultimately there are about $8.5 million reasons why Ertz doesn’t make sense as an Eagle this year and the team is likely just trying to posture and create more leverage. The saga will play out a little longer, though.
- 49ers LB Fred Warner moved the market at his position in a huge way by signing a five-year, $95 million deal. That $19 million a year figure is eye-popping but it’ll look better once a few other linebackers like Indy’s Darius Leonard and Chicago’s Roquan Smith ink extensions. Warner can fly a little under the radar but he’s one of the best young linebackers in the game right now, particularly in coverage.
- The Saints’ defense took another hit this offseason, losing DT David Onyemata to a six-game suspension for a banned substance. New Orleans already had some questionable depth before, as the top options alongside Onyemata were former UDFAs Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach. Now those guys and a collection of other undrafted and street free agents will be counted on even more. This is a hole the Saints probably need to address along with No. 2 corner.
- The Steelers addressed a glaring need on defense by signing OLB Melvin Ingram to a one-year deal. Ingram might not start but he does provide much-needed depth and insurance in case second-year OLB Alex Highsmith doesn’t take the leap Pittsburgh is expecting. It also better insulates Pittsburgh from injury.