Howard Saga: The Minkah, McKinney and Aikman Factors

Why the Miami Dolphins should take care of their All-Pro cornerback, why they shouldn't, and how a Hall of Famer comes into play
Author:
Publish date:

It's a classic NFL story that's been told time and time again over the past 25 years.

And it involves former Miami Dolphins head coach Jimmy Johnson. And maybe in some sort of way it applies to current Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard.

You know, the 2020 All-Pro selection who has requested a trade via Instagram because he's unhappy with his contract situation.

Well, anyway, when Johnson was winning Super Bowls as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, he cut a linebacker by the name of John Roper after Roper fell asleep during a special teams meeting.

Years later, Johnson would be head coach of the Dolphins when he decided to sign Lawrence Phillips and later was asked in a press conference about his expectations for the talented but troubled running back.

"I can't be writing what the rules are because my rules vary from player to player," Johnson said. "It's like I told Lawrence: In Dallas we had a linebacker named John Roper who got cut for falling asleep in a meeting. If Troy Aikman fell asleep in a meeting, I'd go over and whisper, 'Wake up, Troy.' "

Johnson has clarified that, yes, he would have disciplined Aikman for falling asleep in a team meeting — though he said that never would have happened — but that he wouldn't have cut him because, well, Aikman was an eventual Hall of Famer.

So, yes, different rules for different players.

So what does that have to do with Xavien Howard?

Well, it seems pretty obvious a major reason for the Dolphins' refusal — so far — to redo Howard's contract with four years remaining on it is because of the precedent it would set.

But the Dolphins clearly could argue in the future to any player pointing to the Howard precedent that he was coming off a season where he was selected as an All-Pro.

And the reality is it would make this kind of situation extremely rare moving forward.

THE MINKAH FACTOR

Speaking of precedents, it was just two years ago that the Dolphins had a prominent player request a trade, and the team then granted Minkah Fitzpatrick's wish by trading him to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a first-round pick in a deal that involved a swap of late-round selections.

That deal has worked out fabulously for the Steelers, with Fitzpatrick earning All-Pro honors each of the past two seasons, while the jury is still out on what kind of NFL player tackle Austin Jackson will become.

There are differences in the situations involving Howard and Fitzpatrick, though, and the obvious one are the players' contracts and the reasons for each player wanting out — for Fitzpatrick, it was an issue of philosophy and his role.

The other big difference is that the Dolphins were in full rebuilding mode in 2019 when they traded Fitzpatrick, with no expectations of any kind of being able to make a run for the playoffs.

The 2021 Dolphins, on the other hand, are coming off a 10-6 season and have every right to believe they're ready to get back to the postseason.

And that task would be infinitely more difficult without Howard in the lineup because the likelihood of getting a player of his caliber in return if the Dolphins decide to trade him is pretty remote.

STAR POWER

Anyone who has studied or observed Brian Flores since he became head coach of the Dolphins in 2019 should know he's no a big fan of any player attracting a ton of attention.

He made that pretty clear during his first training camp.

"I’ll let other people worry about star power and all of that – whatever you want to call that," he said in August 2019. "It’s a team game. Stars are kind of a ‘me’ thing. I don’t ... I guess I’m not ... it’s a team game. There are 11 guys out there and they have to work together. If you have a star that wants to do his own thing, that just doesn’t work. I’m of the ‘put the team first’ mantra and these so-called ‘stars’ need to be on that page on this team."

Maybe the Dolphins view redoing Howard's contract with four years left on it as giving in to a "me thing," giving them more reason to refuse to do it.

THE McKINNEY FACTOR

Howard is looking to redo his contract because of the monster season he put together in 2020 when he finished third in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting and became the first NFL player since 2006 to reach double digits in interceptions, combined with the fact he's now the sixth-highest-paid player at his position – and the second-highest on his team.

And that brings the issue of commitment to a contract — from each side, player and management.

Things didn't go so well for Howard in his first season after signing the five-year contract extension in May 2019 because his play was spotty at best that fall — albeit under difficult circumstances because the team was so bad early on — he then had to undergo knee surgery and then was arrested on domestic battery charges, though those later were dropped and he wasn't suspended by the NFL.

It's been suggested that Howard shouldn't be looking to redo his contract now because the Dolphins didn't look to do the same after that forgettable 2019.

But there's one minor detail that can't be overlooked: Howard had almost $24 million due in guaranteed salary in 2020 and 2021, according to overthecap.com, and he obviously would have turned down any demand by the team to restructure his contract, and would have dared the team to simply cut him then.

Contrast that to what happened with linebacker Benardrick McKinney, who recently "restructured" his contract.

He signed a five-year contract extension with the Houston Texans in 2018 and had three years and $27 million left on it when the Dolphins acquired him in the offseason. But his guarantees already were gone, which is why he accepted to "restructure" his contract, which now will pay him $3 million this season and that's it.

The Dolphins did the same thing last offseason when they slashed Albert Wilson's salary from more than $9 million to $3 million and he agreed to the "restructure" to remain on the roster.

Howard himself will be out of guaranteed money after the 2021 season, per overthecap.com, and the Dolphins could walk away from his contract next offseason owing only $2.8 million in prorated signing bonus money.

FINAL WORD

It's interesting to read over the past few days and weeks assessments of Howard's career, including PFF's assertion that last year pretty much was an outlier.

We're here to tell you that's ridiculous because Howard's 2018 performance wasn't THAT far behind what he did last year.

That's a fact.

In 2018, Howard didn't have 10 picks, but he had seven. And his opponent passer rating when targeted was 61.2, which — oh, by the way — ranked second among all NFL cornerbacks with at least eight starts behind only the 52.0 mark of Philadelphia's Avonte Maddox. For those wondering, Howard's passer rating against last year was 48.3, second again in the NFL behind only the 47.8 mark for Denver slot corner Bryce Callahan.

Howard actually has been an absolute stud in the secondary since the second half of the 2017 season when he had back-to-back two-pick games against Denver and New England.

The only issue with Howard as a player has been the knee injuries, which have forced him to miss 25 games in five seasons.

And that obviously is a big issue — and a valid one — when it comes to deciding whether to redo a contract with four years remaining.