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If I run the Dolphins, I don’t trade Xavien Howard. I don’t create Minkah Fitzpatrick II. I don’t like there’s a trade rumor a day, but don’t care the national media is just picking up on a boiling local story for months.
Howard isn’t happy. That’s the story. He’s not happy teammate Byron Jones makes more money than him. He’s not happy the defense is built around him and he’s no longer paid that way. He’s not happy on cornerback island — again, if he’s not paid for it.
Get the money-signed picture?
So nothing has changed since he sat out June practices except the trade rumors have started from every direction. Arizona reportedly offered second- and fifth-round picks and linebacker Jordan Hicks. New Orleans reportedly offered a first-round pick, Philadelphia a second-rounder and tight end Zach Ertz.
The common thread to every trade is you don’t get value for Howard. You don’t come close if he plays close to the career year he had last season. Ten interceptions? Locked against the opponent’s top receiver?
That’s the No. 1 reason the Dolphins defense ranked sixth in the league. It’s the first thought as to why they surprised everyone with 10 wins.
The Dolphins led the league with 28 takeaways and 18 interceptions. Howard’s impact towers over those numbers. It was the most impactful defensive performance in the league — the best by a Dolphins cornerback ever.
You don’t trade that. Not now. The case for trading Howard was two years ago at the start of this rebuild. His talent, big money and injury history made him a risky long-term play on a team playing the long term. His value was, well, what the Dolphins got for trading Laremy Tunsil to Houston.
Now he’s the one certified star on this team. You don’t trade that knowing he probably can’t reproduce last season. You don’t do it knowing his full injury history.
You don’t do it because you’re at a point where you actually have to win games — not just show improvement. The rebuild is rebuilt. The Dolphins will be judged like a real NFL franchise this year, not one on training wheels, where everyone says of any good day, “See? It’s working.”
It has problems, too. One is the Dolphins overpaid Jones at cornerback. He’s a good player. He shouldn’t be the highest-paid player at the position. It just calls more into question general manager Chris Grier’s free-agent decisions from last offseason.
Kyle Van Noy, Jordan Howard, Ereck Flowers, Shaq Lawson — you can go down the list of players dumped after one overpaid year. If it’s just money, that’s one thing. If owner Steve Ross wants to spend money, who cares?
But as Howard’s tantrum shows sometimes injecting money into a locker room has a domino effect. The easy way out of this is giving Howard more money. But he’s one year into a five-year contract (or two, if you want to count the year it was extended). That’s an awkward precedent to set.
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So here we are a week before training camp. Nothing has changed from two months ago — for the trade rumors that aren’t exactly tempting. It would be a player-fueled trade similar to trading Fitzpatrick, now a two-time All-Pro, for Pittsburgh’s first-round draft pick. (Imagine a secondary with Howard and Fitzpatrick.)
Howard likely comes to training camp rather than pay a daily, $50,000 fine. Wouldn’t you? The question is what frame of mind he’s in, and if he practices or has an, oh, nagging hamstring issue that holds him out.
It’s not the end of the world if he misses practices. You could even say he’d be protecting his body. But it’s something coach Brian Flores would have to deal with inside the team and answer to with the media — and has a larger problem at its core.
There are two reasons to make a trade. One is to get a player you want. The other is to get rid of a player you don’t.
Trading Howard would reinforce a third reason to make a trade the Dolphins created with Fitzpatrick: Getting rid of a player who simply doesn’t want you.