The first day of Dolphins minicamp was…eventful. The day kicked off with Xavien Howard not showing up to mandatory practice and officially kicking off his holdout campaign. A little while later, the rain started to come down in buckets, and unfortunately, so did the interceptions. In the midst of a monsoon, second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw a whopping FIVE interceptions within an hour. Tagovailoa’s five picks total the number of interceptions he threw in all nine of his starts in 2020. The good news: it’s only the first practice in June, and as I mentioned earlier, there were torrential downpours. The bad news: Tagovailoa couldn’t have started his 2021 off-season any worse, and the doubts and discussions surrounding Tua will only continue to heighten.
Let’s start with Xavien Howard. After leading the NFL with 10 interceptions and being a finalist for the Defensive Player of the Year award, Howard believes he deserves a restructured contract. Whether X is demanding more guaranteed money or a higher annual salary is yet to be determined. Either way, Howard wants to get paid. In May of 2019, Xavien Howard signed a 5-year, $75.25 million extension with the Dolphins, which pays him $12.075 million in 2021 and $49.325 million over the next four seasons. There are a few issues with this situation.
The first being the amount of guaranteed money on Howard’s contract. Some might see $75 million as a large figure, but it is only the guaranteed money that counts on a player’s contract, which is Howard’s case, is only $39.2 million.
The second dilemma is that Howard hasn’t proven he can stay healthy for long clips at a time. There is no secret that Howard has had various knee injuries throughout his football career. It’s easy to recall Howard’s incredible and record-breaking 2020 season, where he pulled down a league-leading 10 interceptions. Still, many forget he was leading the league in 2018 before his season got cut short due to…injury. When Xavien Howard is healthy and on the football field for Miami, he is a game-changing talent. Howard has missed 15 games in the past three seasons but has also picked off opposing quarterbacks 18 times in a 33-game span. A true double-edged sword.
The final problem, and probably the most glaring, is that Xavien Howard is the second-highest paid corner on his own team. Byron Jones signed a 5-year, $82.5 million contract in 2020, which includes $54.375 million in guarantees, and pays Jones $14 million annually in 2021 and 2022. All of those numbers are higher than what Howard is currently getting from Miami. In addition, Byron Jones has four career interceptions, 47 passes defended in his career than Howard’s 22 picks, and 55 passes defended in 37 fewer games. Xavien Howard has every right to feel slighted, but he also agreed to a contract that made him the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL at the time. Coach Flores went on record saying, “We love X, but this (renegotiation with four years left), hasn’t been done before.” He also added that it is a unique situation as it does not go into any traditional bucket.
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— Andy Davies (@AndyDaviesSport) June 15, 2021
The Dolphins have their hands full with arguably their best player on the team. Unfortunately, trading off elite talent is not always the answer, and removing Howard from the Dolphins defense is a recipe for disaster. Xavien was pivotal to the Dolphins’ top 10 defense in 2020 and must remain on the team if Miami would like to repeat another strong defensive season. A reasonable outcome from this situation is that Howard plays out the 2021 season under his current contract, and the Dolphins reward him with a pay raise when the salary cap skyrockets in 2022.
The other pressing storyline from the opening day of minicamp was Tua Tagovailoa’s depressing outing. Tagovailoa was picked off five times by Miami defensive backs and according to Dolphins beat reporters, it should have been six if Noah Igbinoghene didn’t drop a pass. As mentioned earlier, the rain was not in Tua’s favor on Tuesday and clearly factored into the quarterback’s poor day. Of course, there is no sugar coating a five-interception day, but according to Tua, “It was good for our guys to compete in the rain, and if there were times to make mistakes, this was the time.”
Tua’s rookie season did not live up to the team’s expectations, the fans, or himself. Tagovailoa has worked tirelessly to improve his game on the field and his confidence and mental game off the field. Many reporters knocked Tua for being too conservative and not throwing the ball downfield. Well, that has obviously changed, and Tagovailoa is more aggressive. Tua said, “That’s been an emphasis for us coming out of the first day of minicamp. Be aggressive. Push the ball downfield.” Dolphins’ fans should not be too concerned with one poor outing from Tua; it just hurts his case that it comes the first day of minicamp.
After an off-season with so much doubt, there has also been an absorbent amount of hype surround Tagovailoa. Tua’s trainer Nick Hicks has been featured on a few podcasts and talk shows hyping up Tua. Hicks claims that “Tua is in the best shape of his life,” and “Tua is going to prove a lot of people wrong this year.” Whether that is true or not, day one of minicamp didn’t give anyone in the Dolphins community a sigh of relief.
What will help Tagovailoa is a strong day two and proving this type of play is only a fluke and not a trend. Tua seemed to settle down after a rough start to day one and completed some nice passes to end the practice. In addition, Tua hit former Alabama teammate and #6 overall pick, Jaylen Waddle on multiple occasions in stride, and it seems that chemistry is still strong. Tagovailoa also hit newly acquired Will Fuller on a few deep passes, which is an encouraging sign.
Jeff Darlington of ESPN, who was at Dolphins practice on Tuesday, tweeted, “Tua wasn’t very good, no doubt. Even aside from 5 INTs, he seemed to struggle. But there’s a lot of factors that came into play… and it’s June. I have no sense of whether Tua will be good this year, but today doesn’t really mean much to me. July counts.”
I was at practice today — Tua wasn’t very good, no doubt. Even aside from 5 INTs, he seemed to struggle. But there’s a lot of factors that came into play… and it’s June. I have no sense on whether Tua will be good this year, but today doesn’t really mean much to me. July counts.
— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) June 15, 2021
The success of the team falls heavily on Tagovailoa’s shoulders, but that is what comes with being a quarterback in the NFL. Day two of minicamp will provide many answers to what type of leader Tua is and how he can bounce back from a rough practice. However, there is no need to hit the panic button just yet as a Dolphins fan, and it is better to get the poor play out of the way in June rather than September.