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NFL trade rumors 2021: Could Dolphins shop Xavien Howard?

Buffalo Bills v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

When it comes to trades in the NFL and the Miami Dolphins, there are two names that are immediately mentioned. The first is the idea of bringing quarterback Deshaun Watson to South Florida - a rumor that again started yesterday and continues today - and the possibility of Miami trading away All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard. After an offseason in which Howard wanted a new contract, with the two sides ultimately coming to a compromise for this season and a promise to return to the negotiating table in the offseason, there were plenty of rumors about Miami moving on from Howard.

Now, as the Dolphins plummet from preseason playoff expectations into a 1-5 team that is simply hoping to be respectable on Sundays, the rumors of Howard potentially playing elsewhere are starting to creep up again. Given the NFL’s trade deadline is only 10 days away, it may be time to consider Howard not finishing the season in aqua.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell projected 10 deadline trades across the NFL and the Dolphins trading away Howard was one of the headline moves. Barnwell admits that there were not a lot of options for a landing place for Howard this season until the Tennessee Titans saw cornerback Caleb Farley sustain a torn ACL on Monday night. That injury ends his 2021 campaign and, for a team that is in win-now mode and already struggling in the secondary, that could be a devastating blow to the Titans’ outlook for the season. Unless, they are able to pull off a trade to immediately add a starting cornerback.

And, with the idea of Miami shopping Howard, that “starting” cornerback could end up being an elite cornerback. In his trade scenario, the Dolphins would send Howard and a 2022 NFL Draft second-round pick to the Titans for a 2022 first-round pick and a 2023 second-round pick.

Could that be enough for Miami to make the deal? They would recoup a first-round pick for this upcoming spring, giving them two first-round selections, but they would not have a second-round pick this year. Miami does not have their own pick in the next Draft, having sent it to the Philadelphia Eagles as part of the series of trades in the 2020 Draft that moved Miami into the sixth-overall draft position; they currently have the San Francisco 49ers’ pick as a part of those moves. Adding a second first-round selection - even if it is a late pick in the round given the Titans’ success this year - could allow them to continue to restock a team that clearly has holes on the roster.

In the 2023 Draft, the Dolphins already have two first-round picks, adding the 49ers’ pick to their own, also as a part of the moves in the 2020 Draft. They could then end up with two first- and two second-round picks in 2023, allowing for a continued emphasis on the building of the team through the Draft.

Barnwell writes of the idea of a Dolphins-Titans trade involving Howard:

With all that in mind, there’s a little bit in this trade for everyone. The Titans get a plug-and-play star at cornerback who aligns with their championship window in what might be their clearest path toward a conference title. They’re already down their second-round pick from the Julio Jones trade, so they send their first-rounder in 2022 and then swap second-rounders with the Dolphins between 2022 and 2023. There might not be a huge gap between Tennessee’s first-rounder and Miami’s second-rounder in 2022, but even moving up 10 spots into the 20s of that draft and getting a 2023 second-round pick can be a pretty meaningful return for Miami.

The issue for the Dolphins may simply be, does this signal that the rebuild what was supposed to end this year as the team became a playoff contender, really needs at least another two years? Are head coach Brian Flores and general manager Chris Grier secure enough in their positions to bet on getting two more draft cycles to reap the rewards of a trade like this? Does Miami need to hold on to Howard - despite what could be an ugly offseason of negotiations with him - so that they have the ability to turn around this season and prove they are ready to compete next year?

Howard is an interesting piece for the Dolphins, but whatever happens with him could be a signal about the direction of the franchise. Will owner Stephen Ross allow for a move that pushes winning back another year, or two, or three?

Miami has recent history of allowing a top-tier defensive back to leave. The team traded Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Pittsburgh Steelers when he became disgruntled in South Florida. He has been named to the Pro Bowl and a First-Team All-Pro selection in both seasons since leaving Miami. Are the Dolphins willing to see that happen again?

Does shopping Howard, no matter what the return, signal Miami is still years away from being relevant?

Howard feels like a player the Dolphins need to keep in order to win. But the team needs to start winning to justify keeping a player like Howard.