When Byron Maxwell was released on Tuesday it brought to a close the Miami Dolphins career of a player who was, you must remember, the primary piece of the 2016 offseason trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
That trade improved Philadelphia’s draft position by five slots in the NFL draft’s first round while also sending Kiko Alonso to Miami. And, yes, Alonso has gone from being a throw-in part of the deal to a great addition for the Dolphins so far. He’s a major contributor on defense.
(And obviously the Eagles are happy with the trade because it put them in position to eventually move up again in the first round and draft quarterback Carson Wentz).
But the Maxwell part of the deal now feels ... strange.
It feels like the Dolphins didn’t get enough. They didn’t get enough out of Maxwell, especially when you consider the team paid $17 million for as many notable benchings (2) as interceptions (2).
Seventeen million dollars for 15 starts. Seventeen million dollars for a lot of coaches’ frustration.
And the fact it didn’t work is mostly the responsibility of the player. But there’s also some taint on the club.
There’s failure on both.
(I’ll explain in a moment)
The fact it didn’t work and Maxwell is gone is almost shrug worthy now because Xavien Howard is playing well and rookie Cordrea Tankersley is a very promising player who was not about to be benched, so that starting duo is fine.
But that’s right now.
I for one am not convinced the Dolphins might not look back on this season when it’s over and wish they had Maxwell up their sleeve in November or December. Obviously, I don’t know this for a fact because I’m not a freakin’ prophet. But from what I’ve seen of the Dolphins cornerback corps that Maxwell leaves behind, it seems weaker today than it did two days ago.
Maxwell’s departure leaves Alterraun Verner as the next man up should something go wrong with either Howard or Tankersley. The Dolphins would tell you that was the case before Maxwell was cut anyway but that’s because Maxwell had not just been benched but effectively been shelved.
He was inactive the past four games and he wasn’t totally healthy -- appearing on the injury report with foot or other ailments. And, shockingly, as he sank further back on the shelf, Maxwell didn’t improve in practice.
Quite the opposite.
And here’s where we start to see the failure on all sides: Maxwell didn’t respond to his 2017 benching the way he responded in ‘16. He didn’t correct what he was told to correct -- like not playing coverages coaches expected him to play. His confidence seemed diminished as well.
He wasn’t the same guy. He was the guy the Eagles dumped after 2015.
But guess what? No one on the Dolphins was able to pull him out of his doldrums. No one was able to throw him a life saver.
Last year, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, sick and tired of Maxwell after about two games, made it one of his projects to raise Maxwell’s play. And he did. Teammate Tony Lippett, who took Maxwell’s job, got with Maxwell and the two watched extra tape and studied receivers beyond just watching what coaches served up. And Maxwell got better at playing his opponents.
But this year Joseph is in Denver. And Lippett is on injured reserve. And Maxwell had no crutches when his performance developed a limp.
That’s a team failure.
Maxwell was still respected by the other cornerbacks on the team, however, specifically the man who replaced him.
“He kept me going. Helped me out about a lot of things -- things game plan-wise,” Tankersley said. “You’re always going to miss a great teammate, someone who you looked to to lead for a while. He’s someone I looked up to since high school. So it’s definitely going to be weird, but you have to go on.”
So onward the Dolphins go without a player that was in the shadows the past month anyway. No great loss, it seems.
But here’s where I think a little differently than coaches and personnel people. They looked at Maxwell and rolled their eyes skyward because he wasn’t into it anymore and wasn’t doing everything he was being told and they were just done with the dude.
I look at Maxwell and think insurance policy.
So what if Howard gets hurt? He was injured most of last season, has been on the injury report numerous times this season and is even nursing a shoulder issue now. What if a player who’s durability is still a question has durability issues later this season? Then what?
What about Tankersley? He’s on course to become a good NFL cornerback. He might even become very good.
But he’s not there right now. He gave up two touchdown passes against the Jets on Sunday.
“One of them I just flat-out got beat and one was just a miscommunication,” Tankersley said.
No problem if it stops. But what if it doesn’t?
In other words, what happens if everything doesn’t go exactly according to script? (By the way, the Dolphins have a knack for having things not go according to script, in case you haven’t noticed).
If something goes awry with either of Miami’s two starting corners, the Dolphins will have to turn to Verner. Or move slot corner Bobby McCain outside. Or insert Jordan Lucas or rookie Torry McTyer.
How would that play out against, say, Kansas City? Or Pittsburgh in the playoffs? How would the Dolphins match up then against New England?
I think those other players would fight. They would play the coverages they’re asked. They’d not be a headache for coaches.
And then the game would start and the passing would start and the trouble would start.
None of the remaining guys are 6-foot-1 and can serve as an experienced veteran starter in a pinch. That’s what releasing Byron Maxwell cost the Dolphins.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero