The NFL has been on a spending spree, using its massive television contract as leverage to sign star players to big-money contracts. The trend reached its peak earlier this past season when the Miami Dolphins signed All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard to a 5-year contract worth $70 million. This past week, the Baltimore Ravens showed similar aggression when they extended All-Pro safety Eric Weddle to a 7-year, $35 million contract. Both players are deserving of their contracts, but each deal has raised concerns about the sustainability of NFL contracts that are far too high for the league’s high-priced talent.
The Cleveland Browns signed cornerback Xavien Howard this offseason to a one-year, $4.8 million contract with a $1 million signing bonus. That’s a lot of money for a player who doesn’t play in the team’s secondary, and it’s also a lot of money for a player who is close to turning 30.
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Xavien Howard hasn’t had the best of seasons after leading the NFL with 10 interceptions and 20 passes defensed last season. Despite being one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL, the two-time Pro Bowler openly requested a trade due to contractual issues.
The Miami Dolphins were placed in a difficult situation as a result of this. They didn’t want to move Howard (Miami is aiming for the playoffs in 2021, and Howard is an important component of their defense), but they also didn’t want to give in to Howard’s salary demands.
Howard’s prior salary of $15.25 million made him the sixth highest paid cornerback in the NFL. It wasn’t like Miami was paying him peanuts.
By renegotiating Xavien Howard’s contract, the Miami Dolphins created history.
The Dolphins briefly considered trading Howard, but eventually opted to renegotiate his deal. Howard’s contract includes an additional $4.5 million in incentives, increasing his maximum pay for 2021 to $16.29 million.
For what it’s worth, $16.29 million per season would still rank sixth in terms of average yearly cornerback pay.
Both the Dolphins and Howard seem to be winners on paper. Miami retains their starting cornerback for the foreseeable future, and Howard gets a few million dollars more. There was no damage done.
Not so fast, my friend.
If Miami accedes to Howard’s demands, it sets a hazardous precedent for the rest of the league.
According to a source, the #Dolphins have agreed to restructure CB Xavien Howard’s deal. The problem has been fixed. He’ll be remaining in Miami for the time being.
It’s said to be the first time in NFL history that a player with four years remaining on his contract has gotten more money and guarantees.
August 8, 2021 — Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo)
According to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, this is the first time in NFL history that a player with four years remaining on his contract has earned more money and guarantees. It’s not unusual for players to skip training camp or demand a trade over the summer in order to get more money from their club. However, doing so with four years remaining on your contract is not.
In 2019, Howard agreed to a five-year contract for $75.25 million. Because of the injuries and inconsistency that plagued Howard throughout his early career, many saw this contract as an overpay on Miami’s part. The Dolphins placed their faith in Howard’s ability to develop over time.
Howard’s near-Defensive Player of the Year 2020 season surpassed expectations, prompting him to ask for more money this summer.
Other players in the NFL may start to use a similar strategy.
Mark Brown/Getty Images/Xavien Howard
Howard is one of the greatest (if not the best) cornerbacks in the game, and he deserves to be paid more. However, the manner in which he handled the issue sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the league.
Players around the league may begin to consider their own holdout strategies now that Howard has been successful in his quest of more money this summer. Several NFL players have exceeded their current contracts despite just being one or two years into them, putting pressure on their teams to pay more money.
It contradicts the point of paying players early, which has been more popular among NFL clubs in recent years. Why prolong players’ contracts in the first place if they’re going to hold out after the first or second year?
While this may seem to be a great situation for the athlete on paper, there are plenty of NFL players who have benefitted by getting paid “early,” like quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Jared Goff. Two athletes who might not have earned as much money if their club hadn’t pressed for an early contract extension.
Good for Howard; he received the additional cash he needed this summer, but it’ll be fascinating to watch how many other players follow in his footsteps. By this time next year, there may be a flurry of strikers and contract restructures.
Pro Football Reference provided all stats.
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