No Dolphins player rode more of an emotional rollercoaster in 2016 than cornerback Byron Maxwell, who was awful early, benched for a nationally-televised game, returned to play exceptionally well for much of a nine-game stretch, then missed the final three games with an ankle injury.
On the second day of offseason on-field practices, Maxwell spoke on Wednesday of the disappointment of ending the year injured but the confidence he drew from playing at a high level for the two months before that.
“That was the best playing [of my career] at times,” he said. “It definitely keeps you confident.”
Acquired last offseason in a major trade with Philadelphia, Maxwell entered 2016 as the Dolphins No. 1 cornerback but was benched for the Thursday night game against Cincinnati because he was beaten repeatedly in the first third games (he allowed 14 of 23 passes to be caught against him for 185 yards) and because of delinquent tackling.
But Maxwell’s benching lasted only one game because of an injury to Xavien Howard. And when Maxwell returned, he was very good, finishing the season with an excellent 71.6 passer rating against in his coverage area.
Pro Football Focus rated him 11th among all cornerbacks last season, just ahead of Seattle’s Richard Sherman.
So what changed?
“Changing technique and mindset,” he said. “I realized what I had to do for this team to win. It was taking ownership.”
But his season ended on a downer, with Maxwell missing the final two regular season games and the playoff game with an ankle injury that is now healed. “You put all the work in and to end like that,” he bemoaned.
Maxwell, whose $8.5 million cap hit for 2017 is the fourth highest on the team, will need to play at an elite level to have much chance of returning in 2018 under his current contract. Here’s why:
Not only is Maxwell due $9.75 million (non-guaranteed) in 2018, but the Dolphins won’t have to pay any of his $10 million cap hit if they cut him.
The Dolphins might have drafted a potential longterm replacement for Maxwell when they snagged Cordrea Tankersley – like Maxwell, a Clemson alum – in the third round.
But Maxwell won’t allow that dynamic to affect their relationship. He said he intends to take Tankersley under his wing.
“Yeah, of course,” he said. “I will do anything I can to help. Bouncing ideas off him. Maybe do some things off the field to get better. That’s part of my job.”
Maxwell said when the Dolphins drafted a cornerback, he was actually “happy. You always need corners. If you don’t have [defensive linemen] and corners, you really don’t have a chance. You need depth at those positions. I was happy with the draft.
“I watched [Tankersley] a lot [at Clemson]. He always popped. He had great ball skills. He always found the ball. I watched him a lot.”
At 29, Maxwell is the senior member of a group featuring Howard, Tony Lippett, Bobby McCain and Tankersley, among others.
“I am looking forward to this year and staying healthy and making my impact with this team,” he said.