Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Xavien Howard landing spots: Dolphins releasing one of NFL’s most productive corners at start of league year

The Miami Dolphins‘ star-studded defensive backfield of four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard and seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey is no more.

The Dolphins informed Howard, who had three years remaining on his five-year, $90 million contract, that they’re releasing him at the start of the NFL’s new league year, CBS Sports HQ senior NFL insider Josina Anderson confirms. Miami will collect $18.5 million in salary cap savings by designating Howard as a post-June 1 release, according to the Sun Sentinel. In contrast, the Dolphins would only save $2.8 million if they cut Howard before June 1. 

The team can release him at the start of the new league year on March 13 and still designate him as a post-June 1 cut to hit maximum savings. However, that cap relief doesn’t hit until June 1, meaning Miami will have to carry Howard’s full cap charge for the current season until June. This is typically more of a move done by teams with an eye on having the ability to squeeze their rookie draft class into their cap room in the summer. 

Howard’s 29 career interceptions since he entered the league as a second-round pick of the Dolphins (38th overall) in 2016 are the second most across the last eight seasons, trailing only Denver Broncos Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons‘ 30. His best year came in 2020 when he led the league with 10 interceptions, which earned him his only First-Team All-Pro nod. Howard’s four Pro Bowl selections in a Dolphins uniform are tied for the second most in franchise history by a defensive back, trailing only safety Jake Scott’s five in the 1970’s.

Howard is the second of two cost-cutting moves by Miami that have been made known Friday. The Dolphins are also going to cut edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah, which will save them between $13.7 million and $15.7 million. The two releases will save Miami over $30 million in cap room. 

Howard will now immediately be one of the most sought-after free agent corners this offseason along with Jaylon Johnson, Stephon Gilmore, Kenny Moore and Kendall Fuller

Here is a look at five potential free agency landing spots for Howard, who turns 31 on July 4. 

Houston Texans

The Texans are trying to win now after they were able to win the AFC South and reached the AFC divisional round in quarterback C.J. Stroud’s first season in which he earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. They have a couple foundational defensive pieces already in 2023 Defensive Rookie of the Year edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. and 2022 third overall pick cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., whose five interceptions were tied for the fourth most in the NFL last season.

Houston is projected to have the seventh-most cap space in the league this offseason, $67.6 million according to OverTheCap.com, with many key contributors on both sides of the ball on their rookie deals. Howard could be a nice veteran voice in their locker room as well as a solid CB2 across from Stingley on a defense that surrendered the 10th-most passing yards per game (234.1) in the NFL last season. 

Detroit Lions

The NFC runner-ups are in a great spot as their rebuild is now ahead of schedule with the team reaching the conference championship round with rookies like running back Jahmyr Gibbs, tight end Sam LaPorta and safety Brian Branch playing key roles. However, Detroit’s secondary could still use some work as it was below league average in pass defense (336.1 passing yards per game allowed, 19th in NFL). Howard can add some needed experience to what’s overall a young defensive backfield. 

Equipped with $63.7 million in cap space, according to OverTheCap.com, the Lions could be in on the Howard sweepstakes. Quarterback Jared Goff is entering the final year of his current deal in 2024, so Detroit will likely have to get that done first before entertaining external free agents. 

Washington Commanders

The 2023 Commanders were the worst defense in football. They ranked dead last in scoring defense (30.5 points per game allowed), total defense (388.9 total yards per game allowed), pass defense (262.2 passing yards per game allowed), passing touchdowns allowed (39) and passer rating allowed (105.7). 

The good news for them is they have the most cap space in the entire NFL this offseason with just over $87 million in room, according to OverTheCap.com. Given they will likely select a new quarterback to build their franchise around with the second overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, they will have money to spend for a few years with a passer on their rookie deal. 

Cornerback is a dire need for Washington. Commanders cornerback Benjamin St-Juste allowed the second-most passing yards by a single player in the NFL last season, 872 yards to be exact. Emmanuel Forbes, the team’s 16th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, struggled immensely with the transition from playing in the SEC at Mississippi State in college to the NFL last season. Washington benched him from Weeks 12-16. 

Howard would walk into Washington as its top corner immediately. New head coach Dan Quinn’s Dallas Cowboys defenses thrived upon getting takeaways (93, led the NFL from 2021-2023), specifically from interceptions (59, led the NFL from 2021-2023). He will certainly want massive upgrades at the cornerback position, and Howard could be the start of that for the Commanders this offseason. 

Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders underwent a significant defensive turnaround last season following the firing of head Josh McDaniels and the promotion of linebackers coach Antonio Pierce to interim head coach. Las Vegas led the NFL in scoring defense (16.0) under Pierce from Week 9 through the conclusion of the 2023 regular season.

However, they still ranked 22nd in passing yards per game allowed (226.0) under Pierce last season, highlighting their secondary as an area for improvement entering his first season as the team’s full-time head coach. One of the Raiders’ starting cornerbacks, Amik Robertson, is set to become a free agent, opening a spot that Howard could slide into. Vegas is projected to have the 10th-most cap space in the league this offseason at $48.7 million, according to OverTheCap.com, making the addition of Howard viable. 

Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings defense showed significant improvement under defensive coordinator Brian Flores in his first season at the controls. Minnesota allowed 25.1 points per game in 2022, ranking 28th out of 32 teams. Under Flores, that number dropped to 21.3 points per game, good for 13th in the league.

However, they still struggled against the pass (234.5 passing yards per game, 24th in the league), and a lot of their success can be attributed to Flores’ schematic smoke and mirrors. Flores had Minnesota blitzing at a league-high rate of 50.7% in attempt to combat their lack of pass rush (32.1% quarterback pressures rate, 27th in NFL) outside of Pro Bowl edge rusher Danielle Hunter, who ranked top 10 in the NFL in pressures (80, 10th) and sacks (16.5, fifth). 

The Vikings could use some veteran savvy on the back end of their defense, and Flores coached Howard for three seasons as his head coach from 2019-2021. A reunion in the Twin Cities would make sense for both parties. Plus, the Vikings are projected to have $37.9 million in cap space this offseason. However, the addition of Howard will likely be dictated by whether or not Minnesota opts to re-sign quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is slated to become a free agent this offseason. 

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