Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins have important decision to make on Xavien Howard contract extension

Xavien Howard wanted to make Pro Bowl since rookie year.

Xavien Howard admits to wanting to be selected to the Pro Bowl since he was a rookie.
Up Next
Xavien Howard admits to wanting to be selected to the Pro Bowl since he was a rookie.

The Miami Dolphins spent much of Wednesday morning celebrating Xavien Howard’s trip to the Pro Bowl in Orlando.

The team tweeted from its verified account Xavien Howard walking into the morning Pro Bowl practice. And Howard telling fans he was at the Pro Bowl. And teammate Walt Aikens showing Howard love and cheering him on from the sidelines during practice. And Aikens announcing he is at the Pro Bowl practice for Howard. And Howard signing autographs.

The Dolphins were really, really, really into the Xavien Howard Pro Bowl practice experience on Wednesday.

But the important question is whether the Dolphins’ front office will be really, really into the Xavien Howard contract experience?

And, more importantly, when?

Howard is scheduled to go into the final year of his rookie deal in 2019. He is scheduled to cost the team $1.95 million on the cap, which is outstanding (for the team) considering Howard tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions and is a Pro Bowl player.

But with one year remaining on his deal, Howard and his representative want an extension to that rookie deal. And they’ll want it, for the sake of the player’s security, before the 2019 season begins in September.

And this is where the timing part of this becomes interesting. And important.

Because the Dolphins have struggled with the timing of some contract extensions in recent years and it would be wise for them to, well, stop struggling now that general manager Chris Grier is at the head of all such things.

The struggles?

Remember when the Dolphins had Kiko Alonso locked up for 2017 under a restricted tender deal? They didn’t need to give him a new contract that 2017 offseason but did so because they were wholly pleased with what he did in 2016 and decided to reward him.

That extension didn’t really do much to affect the Dolphins’ 2017 salary cap. But that’s not the point.

The Dolphins didn’t have to pay up front. And if they had not, they would have witnessed Alonso falter in 2017 in the first year of his new deal.

Alonso wasn’t as strong as he’d been the year before because a lingering hand injury kept him from working out in the offseason as he’d wanted. As a result, Alonso’s production was something of a disappointment in 2017.

The point is if the Dolphins had waited to re-sign Alonso after 2017 instead of before, they probably could have paid less than the four-year, $29 million deal they paid after his outstanding 2016.

Then there was the Ryan Tannehill contract.

Tannehill showed growth and potential as a rookie in 2012, and the next couple of seasons as well. So in the spring of 2015, the Dolphins signed Tannehill to a four-year contract extension even though he was still under his rookie contract for 2015 and the team could have placed an injury guarantee deal on him for 2016.

So two years out from a so-called zero hour, the Dolphins locked up their quarterback. And, obviously, they did this believing Tannehill was their answer long-term.

But that conviction was based on a projection rather than the proof of past performance.

And Tannehill’s performance in 2015 and then in 2016 suggested he was a solid quarterback. But not a $20 million per year quarterback.

Beyond that, if the Dolphins had gone into the 2016 season wanting to extend Tannehill then, the price might have been lower because Tannehill was less productive in 2015 than he was in 2014.

Understand it is often the right thing to do to get out in front of contracts. But picking the right guys to do that with is important. Because long-term commitments with players that have questions about them is a dangerous gamble.

Which brings us back to Xavien Howard.

On the surface this is a no brainer.

He’s good. He’ll be 26 in July. He’s a hard worker. He practices well and tries to hone his craft. None of that is an issue. All of that suggests signing him to a contract extension this offseason despite having one more season left on his rookie deal is solid business.

That is, after all, how teams typically treat their Pro Bowl players.

“It’s an honor to be out here with these guys,” Howard told The Miami Herald on Wednesday after his Pro Bowl practice. “It’s my first time just being here. It’s a pleasure just to be with these guys and be out here and be able to put on a Dolphin helmet again.”

But ...

There’s a reason for that “again.”

Howard missed the final four games of the 2018 season with a meniscus injury. The NFL Network reported the injury required surgery. Howard later disputed that.

Regardless, it wasn’t Howard’s first issue with his knees.

As a rookie in 2016 he missed all of training camp and three of four preseason games after needing surgery on the other knee. And later that year, Howard had to miss nine regular-season games when that same knee required more surgery after he injured it again.

So what’s the point?

Well, Howard does not come into this offseason with a pristine injury history. There is a question about it.

And the Dolphins can decide Howard is a baller (he is) and be confident there’s no question about his knees whatsoever going forward. He told the Herald Wednesday he’s, “100 percent.”

But he cannot predict the future.

And neither can the Dolphins.

Everyone is projecting all will be fine with a player’s knees when that player has had a history of knee injuries.

So the question should be asked whether there is a pressing rush to extend Howard this offseason instead of before he hits free agency next offseason. Better yet, why not make the decision if and when Howard’s playing at a high level and proving he’s healthy during the coming season?

What’s the serious rush?

The obvious reason some teams move forward on signing good players is to hold the market price down. It gives them certainty about costs. It keeps good players on their teams.

That isn’t a factor with Howard right now.

He’s signed to the team in 2019 and an extension can happen at anytime -- including after the season begins.

Howard already set his market when he told reporters at season’s end he wants to be the highest paid cornerback in the NFL. So Howard wants to be above the $15 million per year deal the Redskins gave Josh Norman in 2016.

Well, if that’s the case, what’s the rush to get above that number?

Howard probably deserves such a deal. But, in my mind, only if he can go through a majority of next season playing at a high level and staying healthy.

Could waiting for that to play out hurt the Dolphins?

Look, Howard already wants to make more than anybody so how much higher is the market going to go this offseason when Ronald Darby, Kareem Jackson, and Jason McCourty hit free agency?

I don’t think the ceiling is going that much higher than $15 million per year and if it does, it won’t be by a significant amount.

Meanwhile, certainty has value, too. It is good to know exactly what you’re paying for.

The Dolphins thought they were paying for one thing when they signed some of their other players to extensions a year early and got burned.

So the Dolphins have to decide if paying Howard this offseason guarantees they’ll be getting a healthy player for 2020 and beyond. Or they might decide waiting a bit and see more evidence is more prudent.

It should be interesting.

Armando Salguero has covered the Miami Dolphins and the NFL since 1990, so longer than many players on the current roster have been alive and since many coaches on the team were in middle school. He was a 2016 APSE Top 3 columnist nationwide. He is one of 48 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters. He is an Associated Press All-Pro and awards voter. He’s covered Dolphins games in London, Berlin, Mexico City and Tokyo. He has covered 25 Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, and the Olympics.