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NFL executives rank Miami’s Xavien Howard among league’s best cornerbacks

Will Howard have another top-notch season with the Dolphins?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins and defensive back Xavien Howard don’t agree on much these days.

Rumors are swirling that Howard may sit out of training camp as he hopes to receive a new contract after a top-tier 2020 season. Howard led the league with 10 interceptions and earned First-Team All-Pro honors.

ESPN is working on a series focused on identifying the top-10 players at each position. Staff writer Jeremy Fowler is working with 50 NFL executives to create the lists. Among cornerbacks, Howard ranks third.

“‘He likes to put hands on people. My kind of corner,’ an AFC coordinator said. “Howard has the press-man ability and ball production that every team covets. The All-Pro produced a league-high 20 pass deflections, using his size (6-1, 198 pounds) to fluster top receivers. He is versatile enough to jam a wideout or play Cover-2 when the defense switches things up.”

The series has Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams and Marlon Humphrey of the Baltimore Ravens ranked ahead of Howard.

Howard, who can be cut before the 2022 season and save the Dolphins roughly $12 million against the cap, is looking for a new contract. Not only does he want more protection in the form of guaranteed money, but also a deal that pays him more than teammate Byron Jones, who is slated to make almost $3 million more than Howard this season.

The Dolphins may be hesitant to commit to Howard long-term — again — due to injury concerns. The defensive back has played in 16 games twice in his five-year career. A new contract with more guaranteed money provides Howard with protection, getting paid even if suffering an injury.

This is strictly speculation, but in theory, the Dolphins could waive Howard after the season if he suffers another injury. This would force Howard, one of the league’s best, into a situation where he may have to play under a cheaper “prove-it” deal to show he has recovered from his injury, somewhat as Brent Grimes did in 2013.

It is important to keep in mind that Howard can have an impact even when playing in limited games. In fact, he led the league in interceptions back in 2018, despite only playing 12 games. He matched Kyle Fuller and Damontae Kazee with seven interceptions that year.

While there is plenty to unpack when talking about a new contract for Howard, there is no debating that he can keep up with the league’s best receivers.