Trade Talk: Dunlap, Fitzpatrick and X

The Miami Dolphins, like all the other teams, are six days away from the NFL trading deadline and this time always means a lot of rumors and speculation
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With the NFL trading deadline less than a week away, it's always a good time to take stock at all the talk around the league involving high-profile players.

One of those names that's been thrown into the speculation game this year is Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard, with the team strongly denying Tuesday that it's trying to trade him after a South Florida Sun-Sentinel report suggested it was fielding offers.

This was the statement put out by the Dolphins in the aftermath of the story by Dolphins beat writer Omar Kelly: “The report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel is factually inaccurate and based on rumors. The paper practiced poor journalism by not reaching out to the team for comment or the chance to respond prior to publishing the story. We are not exploring any trades regarding Xavien Howard.”

Before we get into the pros and cons of exploring a Xavien Howard trade, we should mention that Joe Schad from the Palm Beach Post tweeted that a league source confirmed the Dolphins were listening to offers for Howard.

And the whole thing started with a tweet from former NFL defensive end Leger Douzable.

Of course, the first obvious question that comes to mind here: Why would the Dolphins even think of trading Howard?

The answer should be equally obvious: His trade value can only go down from here, so if the Dolphins don't see Howard as part of their future, the time to trade him would be now.

But why would Howard not be part of the Dolphins' future? This clearly would seem to involve — unless there are other factors at play — his contract and/or his history of knee problems.

Howard is in the first year of a five-year contract extension he signed in May 2019, a few months after he played in the Pro Bowl for the first time. The contract is worth $75.3 million with $46 million fully guaranteed.

Since joining the Dolphins as a second-round pick in 2016, Howard has had at least three knee operations, the last coming last December.

But Howard certainly doesn't look right now like somebody who's got any issues of any kind because he's playing about as well as any cornerback in the league.

Howard is tied with Washington Football Team cornerback Kendall Fuller for the NFL lead in interceptions with four, and his 46.9 opponent passer rating when targeted is the best among any cornerback with at least 20 targets against him.

The way Howard is playing is precisely why the Dolphins would NOT want to trade him unless, of course, another team made them an offer they couldn't refuse.

You know, sort of what happened last year with Laremy Tunsil, with General Manager Chris Grier revealing that the Dolphins turned down the Houston Texans a few times but the offer kept getting better until it reached a point where it simply was too good to pass up.

And how is that trade turning out? Yes, Tunsil is having a great year as a pass protector, but last we checked Houston was 1-6 and headed for a top five pick in the 2021 NFL draft and that will be headed the Dolphins' way.

The way Howard has been playing, combined with the return of Byron Jones from his groin injury, has given the Dolphins the kind of cornerback play around which the entire defense can revolve.

It's also fair to point out that there's a considerable drop-off at the position for the Dolphins after Howard and Jones, and that's no disrespect to the other cornerbacks on the roster. Jones' opponent passer rating when targeted is at 60.4, with Jamal Perry at 92.6 and Nik Needham at 109.8.

Rookie first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene may reach elite level someday, but his performance in extended action during Jones' absence (143.0 opponent passer rating) showed it's not going to happen overnight.

Then there's this: The Dolphins clearly are in a position to make a playoff run this year sitting at 3-3 and in second place in the AFC East, though it says here the move to Tua Tagovailoa was made more with the long-term view in mind.

The argument could be made there, though, that the Dolphins can be just as good with Tagovailoa at quarterback, if not better.

There's nobody who could seriously argue the Dolphins would be better in 2020 without Howard at cornerback.

The Dolphins are in a different position than in 2019, which is why they're not expected to make trades simply to accumulate draft capital as they did last year when they sent running back Kenyan Drake to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for a fifth-round pick.

That's why it's highly unlikely they would just give Ryan Fitzpatrick away for a late-round draft pick when he's got clear value for the Dolphins as the new backup and still mentor for Tagovailoa.

Running back Jordan Howard is a different story, though, because the Dolphins simply aren't using him anymore. And because his contract calls for $4.75 million guaranteed this year, it likely wouldn't take much for the Dolphins to move on from him. That guarantee, though, also is the reason the chances aren't great of any team offering anything of value for a running back averaging less than 1 yard per carry — even though Howard has been productive every year before this one and some team might decide a change of scenery is all he needs.

On the flip side, Dolphins fans will take notice every time a big-name player is rumored to become available, as is the case with Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who has made clear his discontent with his current situation.

But before anyone starts picturing him in a Dolphins uniform, let's just realize he's 31, has one sack so far this season, has played in a 4-3 scheme his entire career, and the Dolphins already have a very productive edge rusher in Emmanuel Ogbah.

So the pieces just don't add up for Dunlap becoming a member of the Dolphins.

But as with everything else leading up to the trade deadline, never rule out anything.