The Miami Dolphins open mandatory minicamp Tuesday. Star cornerback Xavien Howard is not among the attendees.
NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported that Howard was not on the field for the start of practice, officially holding out from the first mandatory part of the offseason program.
Head coach Brian Flores said earlier in the morning that he didn't expect cornerback Howard to participate.
"Quite honestly, I'm not sure he's going to be here today. Again, I haven't seen him. I expect him to be here, but I have not seen him yet," Flores said Tuesday. "I think it's pretty clear that this is a contract situation which we've talked about internally. That's what I believe it is. We've had discussions, and we'll continue to have those discussions."
The corner is subject to fines just north of $93,000 if he skips all three days of mandatory minicamp.
Howard signed a five-year, $75.25 million extension with the Dolphins in 2019. Just two years later, the All-Pro corner wants a pay raise.
"Normally, we would keep all this stuff internal," Flores said when asked if he thinks something can get worked out. "Generally speaking, I think you have: You put 'em in buckets. You got contract extensions, you got free-agent contracts. So, we have a player, we extend a contract, you have free agents you bring on. X, this is a little bit of a unique situation. I'm sure you guys all understand this. He was extended, and now we're talking about a renegotiation of an extension. So that's a little bit different. And we've had a lot of discussions about that. Again, very unique situation when we're talking about a potential renegotiation after one year. I think those kinds of longer conversations, we understand that. Obviously had a lot of talks and conversations about those, and we'll continue to have those and keep those internal, but it's a very unique situation."
Howard has four years and $47.5 million remaining on his extension. The soon-to-be 28-year-old is set to earn a base salary of $12.075 million in 2021. His $15.05 million in annual average salary places him sixth among corners.
It's the player directly above him on the list of corner salaries that might have Howard annoyed about his contract. Fellow Dolphins corner Byron Jones signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract last offseason, averaging $16.5 million per year.
Then Howard went and outplayed Jones -- by a lot. Howard led the NFL with 10 interceptions and 20 passes defended last season on his way to Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors.
Many times in these situations, players want to be the highest-paid on their team. Flores was asked Tuesday if Jones' deal played a role in Howard's new contract desires.
"Again, each situation is different. We treat these case by case," Flores responded. "I think at the end of the day, we're gonna keep all these kinda conversations internal. Specific to this one, like I said earlier, it's very unique. It's a renegotiation of an extension after one year, it's something that honestly has never been done before. I'm not saying we're drawing a line in the sand, but different players set the market every year. We love X. Let me just go ahead and say that right now, so you can make sure you write that. We love him. He's very productive. He's a team player. He's an important player on this team, but again unique situation. We want to keep him here, but again markets are set, specific to Byron, markets are set differently every year. Yeah, that's part of the conversation. Again, that's what makes this unique."
With four years left on his contract, Howard has little leverage. Sitting out minicamp is one small bit for the corner. But as fines increase dramatically in training camp, a full-fledged holdout would be difficult. It's possible the Dolphins could decide to move up some money this season -- a move we've seen teams use to appease a disgruntled player without completely tearing up his contract.
Teams are generally reticent to re-do a contract with multiple years remaining on a deal. With Howard having played just one year of his extension, it would be unheard of for the Dolphins to give him a completely new deal.
As we head toward training camp, Howard's situation will be one to monitor. Will the All-Pro put aside his contract demands? Will the Dolphins meet him halfway? Might the corner request a trade? All are possibilities between now and the end of July.