Xavien Howard

Extra Points: Fournette, Jaguars, Foles, Gase, Dolphins

While today’s NFL news is almost entirely focused on coaching staff shakeups, there are still some other interesting nuggets out there. One very noteworthy situation is the drama unfolding with the Jaguars and Leonard Fournette. Yesterday, head of football operations Tom Coughlin blasted Fournette for sitting on the bench during the team’s Week 17 loss, and now the team is voiding the remaining guarantees in his contract, according to Michael DiRocco of ESPN (Twitter link). The voiding is a result of Fournette’s suspension by the league for one game a couple of weeks ago for his role in a fight that broke out in the Jaguars/Bills game. The NFLPA could challenge any such move, but if his contract included an exception for suspensions, as most rookie deals do, there might not be much they can do.

As a first round pick, Fournette’s multi-million dollar salaries for 2019 and 2020 had been guaranteed, but that’s no longer the case. The team can now cut Fournette without paying him anything more, and a parting of ways whether by trade or release now seems like a very real possibility. It’s a pretty significant development as a few weeks ago no one would’ve guessed the 2017 fourth overall pick’s longterm future with the team was in doubt. The Jaguars invested a very early pick in Fournette, but the returns have been underwhelming. He’s been injury prone and not particularly efficient even when healthy, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry this season. The Fournette situation will be one of the most interesting to monitor this offseason.

Here’s more from around the league on Black Monday:

  • Nick Foles scared Eagles fans everywhere when he went down with a rib injury late in the team’s win over the Redskins, but the undeniably clutch signal caller will be alright for the playoffs. Tests on his ribs came back “clear”, and Foles will start this weekend against the Bears, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network (Twitter link). It’s great news for Philly’s chances, as they look to make a second straight magical run to the Super Bowl. No matter what happens with Foles, he’s extremely unlikely to be back with the Eagles in 2019.
  • Adam Gase has been fired by the Dolphins, and not all of Miami’s players are sad to see him go. “Many players in Dolphins locker room won’t be hurt by decision to fire Adam Gase”, reports Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com (Twitter link), who reports that some players told him they felt “alienated” by Gase and that he held some players to a “different standard.” Reports like these surely won’t help Gase in his quest to land a new head coaching job, although he is still expected to be a hot candidate.
  • Speaking of the Dolphins, one pleasant development for Miami this year was the breakout season cornerback Xavien Howard had. While Howard wants to sign a longterm extension with the Dolphins, his price tag might be too high, according to Adam Beasley of The Miami Herald. Howard picked off seven passes this year, and told Beasley he wants to land the biggest contract for a cornerback in NFL history. Josh Norman currently holds that record, and Howard thinks he deserves to break it. Howard will be playing the final year of his rookie deal in 2019, and Beasley writes that “$15 million annually is expected to be the floor when Howard’s representatives begin extension talks this offseason.” The Dolphins will have a new coaching staff and front office, and it will be interesting to see if they’re willing to meet his demands as they head into a rebuild.

Dolphins’ Xavien Howard Out 3-6 Weeks

The Dolphins were already paper thin at cornerback. Now they’ve lost starter Xavien Howard for three to six weeks because of meniscus surgery, reports Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. Howard – who suffered the injury in practice this week – previously underwent surgery on the same knee in June, which caused the rookie second-round pick from Baylor to miss all of training camp and the preseason.

Xavien Howard (featured)

Despite his inability to get on the field during the summer, Howard led all Dolphins corners in snaps (304) over the season’s first four weeks. Among Dolphins defensive backs, only standout safety Reshad Jones (314 snaps) has seen more action than Howard this year. Howard amassed 28 tackles, two passes defensed and a forced fumble in his first four NFL games (all starts), with Pro Football Focus ranking his performance a subpar 83rd among 111 qualifying corners.

Part of the reason Howard has been on the field so much in Year 1 is the Dolphins’ lack of capable corners. Their most proven option, big-money offseason pickup Byron Maxwell, is amid his second straight underwhelming campaign. That earned the former Seahawk and Eagle a demotion prior to Miami’s 22-7 loss to the Bengals in Week 4. Maxwell didn’t play a snap in that game, but he’ll return to a prominent role against the Titans in a battle of 1-3 teams on Sunday. Joining him will be Tony Lippett, who has played 67 snaps this year. All of those snaps came versus the Bengals, against whom Lippett picked up his first pro start. However, Cincinnati’s top receiver, A.J. Green, torched the 2015 fifth-rounder from Michigan State.

Maxwell aside, the only Dolphins corner with much of a track record is Chris Culliver, who’s on the physically unable to perform list and hasn’t played this year. Culliver is still recovering from the torn ACL he suffered as a Redskin last November, but head coach Adam Gase expects the sixth-year man to factor into the Dolphins’ secondary when he’s eligible to return after the sixth game of the season.

“He’ll be in the conversation very fast,” said Gase.

Miami’s defense will enter Sunday ranked 20th in DVOA against the pass, 23rd in YPA allowed (7.9), 24th in quarterback rating against (98.4) and tied for 31st in interceptions (one).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Impact Rookies: Miami Dolphins

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

Today, we continue PFR’s Impact Rookie series with his insight on the Miami Dolphins’ draft class:

Well, I must say, the folks in South Beach surely know how to make draft day proceedings interesting. On Day One, they somehow managed to walk away with a player most had been calling the best prospect in the draft – Mississippi offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil slid to the Dolphins at No. 13 due to a myriad of off-field issues back in college that was capped by a social media disaster (love your head gear, Laremy, but in the NFL, you have to wear a Riddell model).

The Dolphins entered the draft with eight selections and went home with the same, but they played a little bit of musical chairs in swapping out draft slots before they were done. They even ended playing doing ping-pong with the No. 186 overall selection in round six. Miami had first made a deal with Minnesota, sending two mid-round 2017 slots, along with pick No. 186 to the Vikings in order to move up and select Rutgers receiver Leonte Caroo with the draft’s 86th pick (round three). As the draft continued, the two teams again came to a deal – this time, Minnesota returned that No. 186 selection to South Beach for the No. 196 and No. 227 overall choices. They then used that choice to snatch another receiver, taking Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant.

After an entertaining and active draft weekend, here are the Dolphins rookies that I expect to make a mark in 2016:

First Round – Laremy Tunsil, OT (Ole Miss, No. 13 overall)

The new Miami coaching staff is looking to make major changes to their offensive front wall and Tunsil, if he lives up to his college hype, could be that unit’s foundation, much like high-priced veteran Ndamukong Suh is for the defensive line. Despite some poor decisions in life, there is no questioning Tunsil’s talent, but now comes the task of getting him into the lineup from Day One.

The coaches have slotted the rookie into the left guard spot, lining him up next to a man he will eventually replace at left tackle – Branden Albert. Gone from the first unit is 2015 left guard starter, Dallas Thomas. The team also signed New Orleans castoff, Jermon Bushrod. If the former Saint has anything left in the tank, he gives the Dolphins left side of the line three capable bodies to move around, if injuries do occur during the season.

Continue reading about Tunsil and the rest of the Dolphins’ rookie class..

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Draft Signings: Dolphins, Raiders, Saints

We’ll keep track of today’s draft signings here:

  • A second-round pick who is expected to play a key role for a Dolphins cornerback corps that lost most of its starters from 2015, Xavien Howard has signed his rookie deal, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports. He’s the fifth player in Miami’s eight-man draft class to sign. For Baylor last season, Howard snared five interceptions and broke up 15 passes en route to All-Big 12 acclaim. He’ll vie to join Byron Maxwell as the Fins’ starting corners.
  • The Saints have now wrapped up their draft class’ contracts after signing fourth-round defensive lineman David Onyemata, according to the team’s website. The first University of Manitoba player to be drafted, the Nigeria native finished with 9.5 sacks in 37 games with the Bison. A 300-pound lineman who was selected No. 120 overall, Onyemata won the J.P. Metras Trophy, which is given to the best down lineman in Canadian Interuniversity Sport football.
  • The Raiders announced the signing of second-round defensive lineman Jihad Ward. Ward, selected with the No. 44 overall pick, played for Illinois over the last two seasons. In his time for the Fighting Illini, Ward started all 25 games, totaling 104 tackles, 4.5 sacks, three passes defensed, three forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. The 6’6″, 295-pound athlete climbed up draft boards in the weeks leading up to the draft, leading to his mid-second-round selection.

East Notes: Jets, Fins, Jones, Cowboys, Cousins

Until Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets can come to terms, Geno Smith is the most experienced quarterback on the roster. But Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News doesn’t view Mike Maccagnan‘s repeated endorsements of the underwhelming 2013 second-rounder as comments to be taken at face value.

While the Jets and Fitzpatrick play hardball, other executives around the league are wondering what exactly the team is planning at quarterback. Should Fitzpatrick sign to play a second season in New York, Maccagnan has tossed around the idea of carrying four quarterbacks, with Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty residing in the developmental wing of the meeting room.

The Jets as an organization have discussed using the 2000 Patriots as a model for the four-QB setup. The Pats that year housed starter Drew Bledsoe, veteran backup John Friesz and developmental prospects Tom Brady and Michael Bishop. Hackenberg or Petty would theoretically be cast as Brady in the Jets’ scenario.

One NFL executive told Mehta the Jets considering carrying four passers “doesn’t make sense.” Smith and Petty would seemingly be jostling for a roster spot if the Jets were planning to employ the usual three. Mehta writes the Patriots’ thinking in 2000 was an aberration and merely hanging onto an extra signal-caller one season — at the expense of a key backup elsewhere — doesn’t equate to a franchise passer emerging from the group.

Here’s the latest from the Eastern divisions on rookie minicamp Saturday.

  • New Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph guesses Cameron Wake will be ready to play come Week 1, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports. Wake is recovering from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon and entering his age-34 season. The four-time Pro Bowler registered seven sacks in seven games last season before going down with the Achilles injury in October.
  • Identifying second-rounder Xavien Howard as a “six-foot guy with 5-10 corner movement skills,” Joseph said the rookie corner will vie for a Dolphins starting job with Byron Maxwell and Tony Lippett, per Salguero.
  • Rex Ryan categorized Cardale Jones as a player with “a long way to go,” per an Associated Press report. “He’s got the physical gifts you look for, there’s no question about that,” Ryan said of the former Ohio State starter. “But you also notice that he’s just going through everything like, it’s spinning right now. He’s throwing behind guys. He doesn’t know where he’s going right now with it.” The Bills have Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel venturing into their contract seasons in 2016, leaving the franchise’s future unsettled. Jones was considered a potential first-round pick thanks to the tools he showed as a sophomore in the inaugural College Football Playoff, but being benched as a junior damaged his stock and relegated him into the fourth round.
  • The Cowboys are relocating Keith Smith and Rod Smith to fullback from their respective linebacker and running back positions to provide the them a better chance at making the 53-man roster, Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram writes. Dallas’ fullback from 2013-15, Tyler Clutts remains a free agent. Keith Smith has played in 15 games the past two seasons as mostly a special teams cog, and Rod Smith joined the Cowboys last season after the Seahawks cut him.
  • Washington may be somewhat reluctant to invest long-term, franchise quarterback-level money in Kirk Cousins after he’d shown to be a proficient passer in just one season. But given the team’s recent deals for 2015 breakout players Josh Norman and Jordan Reed, Rich Tandler of CSNWashington.com notes Cousins’ career arc doesn’t differentiate itself much from the now-extremely well-compensated cornerback and tight end. Cousins is currently attached to the $19.953MM non-exclusive franchise tag, which he’s signed.

Dolphins Acquire 38th Pick From Ravens

The Dolphins have acquired the 38th pick from the Ravens in exchange for Nos. 42 and and 107, Baltimore announced on Twitter. The Dolphins will select Baylor cornerback Xavien Howard, according to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald (Twitter link). This represents the second time the Ravens have moved down tonight, as they previously sent the 36th pick to the Jaguars for the 38th and 146th choices.

Howard is the third notable offseason addition to a Dolphins secondary that struggled against the pass last year, joining fellow corner Byron Maxwell and safety Isa Abdul-Quddus.

Dolphins Rumors: Draft, CBs, Jason Jones

Landing a cornerback – and perhaps more than one – is the Dolphins’ top priority in this year’s draft, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a lock to take one with the No. 13 pick, writes Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

According to Jackson, if Miami opts for the best player available in the first round, and that player is a non-cornerback, there’s a belief the team could still land a quality CB at No. 42 and/or No. 73. Jackson mentions Miami’s Artie Burns, Baylor’s Xavien Howard, and Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller as a few potential targets.

Here’s more on the Dolphins from Jackson, including several notes on their possible draft plans:

  • If running back Ezekiel Elliott or linebacker Myles Jack slip to No. 13, the Dolphins would have interest in both players. The team recently sent a contingent to Los Angeles for a private workout with UCLA’s Jack.
  • Some Dolphins scouting and front office people are resistant to the idea of drafting Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III if he’s on the board at No. 13, since the team would prefer a big, physical cornerback.
  • Miami is intrigued by Houston’s William Jackson III and Ohio State’s Eli Apple, but they may not be great value at No. 13, so trading down might be a consideration. Dolphins VP Mike Tannenbaum said today that there have been preliminary conversations about the No. 13 pick, tweets James Walker of ESPN.com.
  • The Dolphins have discussed the possibility of taking one of the top offensive tackles in the first round and moving him to guard – at least temporarily – but that seems to be an unlikely outcome.
  • On special teams, the Dolphins are keeping an eye out for help in the return game and potential competition for kicker Andrew Franks. Special teams coach Darren Rizzi has privately worked out multiple kicker prospects, including Nick Rose of Texas and Daniel Sobolewski of Albright.
  • The Dolphins continue to have conversations with free agent defensive end Jason Jones, and there’s mutual interest between the two sides in working something out.

East Rumors: Eagles, Wentz, Bills, Washington

The Eagles have been doing their homework on all of the top quarterback prospects in this year’s draft, and while there’s some skepticism about whether they’ll actually snag a QB early, at least one analyst believes they’ve got their eye on a particular signal-caller.

“Make no mistake about it, I still think the Eagles first and foremost are trying to find a way to get Carson Wentz,” Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said during an appearance on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia, per Tim McManus of PhillyMag.com. “I know that from people behind the scenes, in the know. That’s who he wants and that’s who he likes. It’s just going to be tough — to move up that far is going to be a challenge.”

Whether or not the Eagles are actually serious about Wentz remains to be seen. Some teams believe Philadelphia’s apparent interest in top quarterbacks – as well as the club’s reported interest in trading up – is a smoke-screen designed to make another team panic and move up for a QB. At the very least though, it’s amusing to consider a scenario that would see the Eagles make a blockbuster trade with the Titans on draft day for a quarterback, given how many observers expected that to happen last year.

Here are a few more updates from out of the NFL’s East divisions:

  • Although news of draft visits and workouts has dominated the NFL news cycle lately, the Bills aren’t done looking at free agents quite yet. Buffalo confirmed today (via Twitter) that safety Colt Anderson and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander are at the team facility for visits, as the club continues to consider additions on defense.
  • Elsewhere in free agency, Washington remains interested in safety Dashon Goldson and defensive lineman Jason Hatcher, two veterans recently released by the team for cap purposes. However, as John Keim of ESPN.com tweets, Washington will likely wait until after the draft before deciding whether to re-sign either player.
  • Baylor’s Xavien Howard is one of a handful of cornerbacks being eyed by the Dolphins, who will bring him in for a visit next week, per Albert Breer of the NFL Network (Twitter link).
  • Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post provides a pair of Patriots updates, writing that the team conducted a private workout for Toledo wideout Alonzo Russell and will work out Purdue offensive lineman David Hedelin next week (Twitter link). Per Wilson, Hedelin met with a Patriots offensive line coach – presumably Dante Scarnecchia – on Thursday.

Draft Notes: Latest Declarations

A quick look at the latest college players who will head for the 2016 NFL Draft:

  • Indiana defensive tackle Darius Latham has declared, according to Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman (Twitter link).
  • Auburn defensive lineman Carl Lawson will enter the draft, per Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net (Twitter link).
  • UCLA running back Paul Perkins announced his draft intentions via Twitter.
  • Fellow Baylor teammates expect defensive tackle Andrew Billings and cornerback Xavien Howard to depart school in favor of the draft, Pauline tweets.
  • Marshall defensive back Corey Tindal also tweeted that he will enter the draft.
  • San Diego State cornerback Damontae Kazee announced that he’s headed for the pros, Kirk Kenney of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes.
  • San Jose State defensive back Cleveland Wallace III joined International Sports Agency (Twitter link).