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Inside the Xavien Howard deal

Detroit Lions v Miami Dolphins

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 21: Xavien Howard #25 of the Miami Dolphins is introduced before the game against the Detroit Lions at Hard Rock Stadium on October 21, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

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If you’ve paid any attention to how new contracts get reported, you know the routine by now. The initial reports often are inflated, with deliberately vague terms (like total guarantee instead of full guarantee at signing) and a new-money analysis (which always makes the deal seem better than it is). Then, inevitably, the real numbers emerge.

Here are the real numbers of the new contract signed by Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard. Reported as a five-year, $76.5 million deal with $46 million guaranteed, it’s actually a six-year, $76.53 million deal, with the specific terms set forth below.

1. Signing bonus: $7 million.

2. 2019 roster bonus: $7 million, fully guaranteed.

3. 2019 base salary: $1,285,641, fully guaranteed.

4. 2020 base salary: $11.9 million, fully guaranteed.

5. 2021 base salary: $12.075 million, guaranteed for injury at signing, and fully guaranteed as of the fifth day of the 2020 league year.

6. 2022 base salary: $12.375 million, $6.775 million of which is guaranteed for injury only.

7. 2023 base salary: $11.4 million.

8. 2024 base salary: $11.65 million.

9. Workout bonuses: $25,000 in 2020, $25,000 in 2021, $100,000 in 2022, $100,000 in 2023, and $100,000 in 2024.

10. Per-game roster bonuses: $31,250 per game from 2022 through 2024, for a maximum of $500,000 per year.

Now, some analysis.

First, the base salary of the extension isn’t $76.5 million. It’s $75.25 million, if he earns the full amount of the workout bonuses and per-game roster bonuses. That’s a new-money average of $15.05 million, beating Josh Norman’s prior high-water mark by only $50,000 per year, three years after Norman’s deal was signed. (And, as previously mentioned, Norman’s five-year deal was worth $15 million from signing; Howard’s deal was worth $12.75 million per year at signing.)

Second, the full guarantee at signing is $27.18 million. The practical guarantee at signing is $39.26 million, since the 2021 base salary becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2020 league year. (The Dolphins can avoid owing Howard $39.26 million only but cutting him after one year, at a price of $27.18 million.)

Third, the total guarantee is indeed $46 million, but the final $6.775 million in injury guarantees never convert to a full guarantee.

Fourth, the cash flow is as follows: $15.285 million through 2019, $27.214 million through 2020, and $39.31 million through 2021. It becomes a year-to-year deal from 2022 through 2024, at a time when the salary cap (and the cornerback market) should be much higher than it currently is.

Again, that’s the biggest problem with the contract. The money after 2021 isn’t guaranteed, beyond $6.775 million guaranteed for injury only in 2022. The Dolphins will control Howard’s rights on a year-to-year basis at that point, with the ability to pay him what surely will be below-market amounts in the final three years if he’s playing well, and the ability to cut him loose if he isn’t playing well.

It’s not a bad deal per se, but it’s not the kind of deal that should have been characterized the way that it was by the initial reports regarding its value. Howard has opted to accept a sizable bird in the hand, but if he had been willing to carry for one more season the risk of injury and ineffectiveness, he would have been able to use the franchise tag (currently, $16 million for cornerbacks) as the starting point for a much more lucrative deal than the contract he accepted.

Ultimately, he chose not to reject what amounts to life-changing money. And that’s fine. But to take his willingness to accept what ultimately is, for Howard, a “safe” compromise doesn’t justify selling it as the best contract any cornerback has ever signed.

It isn’t. Nine months from now, with the leverage that comes from the franchise tag, it could have been.