Barry Jackson

Poised for a big payday, Dolphins’ Howard hires new agent. And Belichick talks Fins

A six-pack of Dolphins notes on a Tuesday:

Among a sea of Dolphins’ second-round busts during the past 12 years – from John Beck to Pat White to Jonathan Martin to Phillip Merling — the Dolphins found two elite talents: Xavien Howard and Jarvis Landry.

Landry left when he and agent Damarius Bilbo rejected Miami’s initial contract offer and eventually snagged a much better deal from Cleveland (five year, $75 million, $47.7 million guaranteed).

And now Howard also has hired Bilbo, and the Dolphins cannot afford to allow Howard to do what Landry and Lamar Miller (represented by Drew Rosenhaus) and Olivier Vernon (represented by David Canter) did after their rookie contracts: leave.

All of those decisions on Landry, Miller and Vernon could be rationalized at the time; all received very lucrative deals elsewhere, beyond what Miami wanted to pay. Losing Howard, one of the best in the league at a high-value position, could in no way be rationalized.

Howard is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2019 season, and Howard said the Dolphins haven’t yet broached the possibility of an extension, though that’s likely to happen at some point.

“I don’t know what the Dolphins have in store for me,” Howard said last week in a quiet moment in front of his locker. “I’m just playing the game. It’s a business.”

He said he would like to stay with the Dolphins long-term, but “they are going to do what’s best for them. I’ve just got to do what’s best for me.”

Bilbo made a smart financial decision in not accepting the Dolphins’ $11 million-a-year offer last December, and he and Howard presumably won’t jump at a first Dolphins offer if they believe it’s not fair value for an elite corner.

Howard recently hired Bilbo after parting ways with prominent NFL agent Todd France.

The Dolphins walked away from Miller and Vernon when other teams gave them contracts too rich for Miami’s liking. That can’t happen with Howard, because this team cannot afford to lose one of the few genuinely elite players on its roster.

Among Howard’s achievements: He leads the NFL with seven interceptions and has two more than any other AFC player. His 12 passes defended are tied for fourth in the NFL. He leads the NFL with eight turnovers (seven interceptions and one fumble recovery). His 11 interceptions during the past 17 games are most in the NFL during that time frame.

“He’s played very well against us; he’s an outstanding player, does a good job in man-to-man and zone coverages,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a conference call with South Florida media on Tuesday. “Got very good instincts. Got very good ball skills. Interception he made against us last year and the one against the Colts this year were two of the best plays a corner can make. He’s a playmaker. Very good secondary.”

The Dolphins have won four of their past five home games against New England (including the 27-20 Monday night win last year), and Belichick offered this as an explanation:

“They got a good football team. They got a lot of good players. They’re well coached. Adam [Gase] does a really good job game planning and scheming. Coach [Darren] Rizzi did a great job in the kicking game against Buffalo; it’s one of the best units we play every year. They’re always tough. It will be a big challenge for us. It always is down there. It’s that way against Miami everywhere. They’re tough.”

So have any other factors, such as the weather, contributed to New England’s problems in Miami?

“I think it’s more the Dolphins,” Belichick said.

Belichick on some of Miami’s personnel: “T.J. McDonald is tough guy to handle, very physical player… They’re a well-balanced group. A lot of guys contributing. The running backs are quality players with high averages.

“Kenyan Drake has had an outstanding year catching the ball. Can’t underestimate Frank Gore. Receivers, an explosive group, lot of big plays. Know a couple of those guys are hurt. [Kalen] Ballage, [Nick] O’Leary – they are becoming a factor, too. Ryan [Tannehill] is very athletic player than can extend plays and makes them tougher to defend and plays where the coverage might be good, and he runs out and breaks you down.”

The good news on Raekwon McMillan: He has 23 combined tackles in the past three games and two for loss in the Bills game.

The bad news: His coverage numbers are pretty dismal - 30 completions in 33 attempts, for 292 yards, six touchdowns and a 141.3 rating in his coverage area.

According to Pro Football Focus, Oakland’s Tahir Whitehead is the only linebacker who has allowed more passing touchdowns (seven) than McMillan.

Here’s how WQAM talk show host and former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder assessed him, off the air:

“He can be a decent backer. He needs to get an understanding of defensive schemes and where all his help is and the run fits. He is big, strong and can tackle but doesn’t get to enough plays, which I believe is the fact that he doesn’t read the O-line blocking schemes and struggles to read direct/gap runs in comparison to a zone scheme. Big picture, God gave him everything he needs to be a really good backer, but I don’t know if he puts in the time to fully understand the scheme demands or he might lack instincts. Doesn’t stack his defensive lineman and see the holes as the running back sees it. Hopefully he can be coached up and watch the top NFL mikes [middle linebackers] to see what it takes.”

Some offensive grade notes from the Buffalo game, per Pro Football Focus:

Receiver DeVante Parker was the highest-graded player on offense at 74.7 overall — he caught four of five targets for 43 yards and a touchdown… Right guard Jesse Davis was the lowest-graded player on offense at 39.7 overall, as he allowed two sacks and one hit and also was charged with two penalties as well….

Ja’Wuan James was the only lineman who graded out well in run blocking, finishing at 77.9 overall there…. Tannehill was 0 for 4 with one interception on passes thrown at least 20 yards… Kenyan Drake’s grade of 73.1 was his highest of the season, and 29 of his 31 rushing yards came after contact.

Some defensive grade notes from the Buffalo game, per Pro Football Focus:

The top defensive grades went to Robert Quinn (90.9) and Ziggy Hood (90.0). Quinn had five pressures, including the strip sack, and Hood recorded six pressures, the most for any interior defender this week…

Sylvester Williams (77.5) and Davon Godchaux (75.1) also had strong games up front for Miami…. Kiko Alonso was the lowest-graded player on the defense at 36.4 overall; he very good in run defense (76.7), but his coverage (29.2) and pass rushing (50.1) graded out poorly.

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