The Miami Dolphins, losers of five straight, should be sellers at the trade deadline (well, hello, Tennessee Titans). Owner Stephen Ross should insist upon it, even if Brian Flores and Chris Grier want to try to salvage the season. No player on the roster should be off-limits — and certainly not cornerback Xavien Howard, the two-time Pro Bowler who led the NFL in interceptions last year.
Yes, the Titans should trade for Xavien Howard
The trade deadline is Nov. 2. And at least once a day between now and then, Titans general manager Jon Robinson needs to get Grier on the phone to talk about Howard, who just three months ago signed a contract adjustment that boosted his incentives and guarantees.
The Titans do not have the defense they need to win a Super Bowl, particularly now that first-round pick Caleb Farley is out for the season. The Titans are somehow 4-2 with the NFL’s sixth-worst turnover margin — that’s unsustainable. But there’s never been an easier fix, assuming Howard’s shoulder and groin injuries are not long-term issues.
Howard led the league in interceptions and pass breakups last year. While his play has slipped some this year — he’s allowed 4 touchdowns in five games — he is still a highly skilled cornerback in a league with precious few of them.
Time for Miami to face the music
Howard has already once demanded a trade this year. He only backed off that demand because the Dolphins improved his contract. But Miami made that tweak believing he would play an essential role in a playoff run. At 1-5, the 14th seed in the AFC with a minus-78 point differential, that dream should be dead. Time for reality.
And the reality for the Dolphins is this: Xavien Howard is more valuable on someone else’s roster than their own. Trading him now would free up some $20 million in cap space over the next two seasons. That is money that could be spent in any number of ways to improve a roster that’s not good enough.
That, of course, presumes competent stewardship by the head of the Dolphins’ personnel. Grier’s job status is on shaky ground because he’s wasted gobs of cap space and high draft picks. But just because the rebuild was executed poorly doesn’t mean the general philosophy was wrong. It’ll be up to Ross and team CEO Tom Garfinkel to decide if Grier deserves one last chance to get it right.
Plus, if the Dolphins are serious about trading for Deshaun Watson or any other veteran quarterback, they need more draft assets — particularly since their own first-rounder in 2022, which very easily could be a top-five pick, is already promised to the Philadelphia Eagles.
What could the Dolphins get for Xavien Howard?
Of course, a deal will only happen if the compensation is right. And this is where Dolphins fans — and perhaps even some employees — could be in for a shock.
The Dolphins will not get the same haul that the Jaguars got for Jalen Ramsey in 2019 (two first-round picks). Grier might not even get the same haul that he got for Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2019 (the 18th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft).
One league source predicted that, unless they eat some of the money he is still owed, all the Dolphins would get for Howard is a third-round pick — a return that would surely infuriate the fan base. But the reality is Howard has missed 25 games in his career due to a series of injuries, most notably to his knees, and he will want a raise from whichever team acquires him.
But a trade would have a hidden benefit. A trade would allow the club to get a complete evaluation of former first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene. He’s logged just 353 defensive snaps since the Dolphins took him in the 2020 NFL Draft. Igbinoghene hasn’t been great as a pro. Nonetheless, he’s still not even 22 years old and has shown improvement this year.
Do the Titans have salary cap space to afford the Dolphins CB?
Absolutely. The Titans have nearly enough space to take on the remaining $7 million or so Howard is owed this year. A simple restructure to one of any number of existing Tennessee contracts would be more than enough to make the numbers work.
The Titans should be in win-now mode. Derrick Henry is the reason they’re in the playoff hunt, but he will be 28 before the regular season ends and already has logged 1,344 career carries — fifth-most among all active players. He probably won’t be able to maintain this level of play for much longer. The Titans’ window is small. Time to go get the missing piece that could put them over the top.