The Miami Dolphins opened their 2021 veteran minicamp on Tuesday, starting a three-day stretch of practices and meetings designed to ensure players are grasping the new offensive playbook and picking up tweaks to the defense. The team can hold two practices a day for a total of 3.5 hours, with the second workout limited to a walkthrough. This is the only mandatory event during the offseason for veterans and one that signals the start of contract holdouts if a player does not show up.
That is the exact situation when it comes to cornerback Xavien Howard. The 2020 All-Pro has four years remaining on a contract extension he signed back in 2019, but he is now sixth in the league in terms of average salary per year for a cornerback on the deal. More importantly, he is second on the Dolphins in average salary at the position. While Howard has a $15.1 million average, Byron Jones has a $16.5 million per year contract with Miami. Howard led the league with 10 interceptions last year, while Jones only recorded two. Miami has a dynamic duo between the ball-hawking Howard and the coverage specialist Jones, but they also now have an issue where Howard appears to feel he is underpaid.
“I think it’s pretty clear that this is a contract situation, which we’ve talked about internally,” Dolphins head coach Brian Flores said on Tuesday ahead of the team’s first practice of minicamp. “That’s what I believe it is and obviously we’ve had discussions and we’ll continue to have those discussions.”
Flores explained a bit more about the discussions the team is having internally as they deal with a player who is unhappy with his contract, but still has four years remaining on that deal. “I would say that normally we keep this stuff internally; but generally speaking, I think you put them in buckets,” the coach stated. “So you have contract extensions, you’ve got free agent contracts; so we have a player and we extend a contract. You have free agents you bring on. ‘X’, this is a little bit of a unique situation. I’m sure you guys all understand this. He was extended and now we’re talking about a renegotiation of an extension, so that’s a little bit different. We’ve had a lot of discussions about that. Again, it’s a very unique situation. We’re talking about a potential renegotiation after one year. I think those turn into longer conversations and we understand that. We’ve obviously had a lot of talks and conversations about those. We will continue to have those and keep those internal; but it’s a very unique situation.”
Howard’s situation is clearly unique. He signed the five-year extension and has played one season into it. It was a $76 million deal with $12 million guaranteed this season - with Jones guaranteed $14 million in 2021. Howard changed agents this offseason, signing with David Canter, always a sign the player is looking for a new contract. His ten interceptions last year made Howard the first player to reach double digit interceptions in a season since 2007 and tied the Dolphins’ franchise record, a mark set in 1967 by Dick Westmoreland. Howard also has the most interceptions in the league over the past three seasons, while missing 15 games over that span. He led the league with seven interceptions in 2018, while only playing 12 games, earning his first Pro Bowl selection. He picked up his second Pro Bowl selection, along with his first First-Team All-Pro selection, last season.
“We treat these case-by-case,” Flores continued. “I think at the end of the day, we’re going to keep these conversations internal. But specific to this one, like I said earlier, it’s very unique. It’s a renegotiation of an extension after one year and it’s honestly something that hasn’t been done before. I’m not saying that we’re drawing a line in the sand, but different players set the market every year. “
The Dolphins are not believed to be looking to trade Howard, though there have been reports in the past of teams calling Miami about his availability. Flores stressed on Tuesday that the team continues to plan for Howard to be in Miami. “We love ‘X.’ Let me go ahead and say that right now, so you guys can make sure you write that. We love him. He’s very productive. He’s a team player. He’s an important player on this team; but again, (it’s a) unique situation,” Flores explained. “We want to keep him here. Again, markets are set. Specific to Byron, markets are set differently every year. Yeah, that’s a part of the conversation; but again, that’s what makes this unique, like I mentioned, which I’m sure everyone can understand.”
Howard could be fined up to $93,000 if he skips all three days of the Dolphins’ minicamp. Any hold out that carries into training camp, set to begin on July 27, would open Howard to fines of $50,000 per day missed. Miami could come to an agreement on a new deal with Howard and waive any fines, but that could also set a precedent that a player with four years remaining on a contract can hold out for a new deal.
Howard and the Dolphins is a unique situation and one that we will all watch out over the next few days, and the next couple of months.