The Green Bay Packers are currently on a five-game winning streak and poised to make a run at the playoffs for a third consecutive season, but injuries to notable defensive starters have some wondering whether they will be buyers at this year’s NFL trade deadline — particularly at the cornerback position.
One NFL executive is even urging them to go out and make a deal for All-Pro Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard for both short- and long-term reasons.
The topic of Howard-to-Green Bay was broached in a recent piece from The Athletic’s Mike Sando on the upcoming trade deadline, which is set for 4 p.m. ET on November 2. He argued that a deal for Howard “could help Green Bay maximize its championship window while shoring up the secondary longer term.”
Sando also based his analysis on the following input of an unnamed NFL executive:
“Xavien is a guy I’d trade for if I’m Green Bay,” An exec said. “Traditionally, you are not getting a guy of that caliber to come to Green Bay in free agency, right? You need to acquire guys via the draft or trade. Especially in the future, if Rodgers is not there.”
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Howard Would Elevate Packers Secondary
Despite how wild his trade proposal is, Sando actually makes a few decent points about why the Packers could be interested in acquiring Howard.
The Packers’ immediate need for cornerback talent is the most obvious one. Right now, they are playing without both of last year’s veteran starters — Jaire Alexander and Kevin King — and entrusting the No. 1 reps to a first-round rookie. They could get lucky and have Alexander back in the rotation in a matter of weeks, but the jury is still out on whether his shoulder injury will require surgery. And if they lose him for the season, they could have no choice but to pursue a more substantial backup plan.
As Sando also acknowledges, Howard and Miami seem destined for a split. The 28-year-old cornerback led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2020, but he chose not to report to the Dophins’ mandatory minicamp this past offseason and remained in a contract dispute with the team until early August when the two sides agreed to rework his existing deal. One of the changes was that the Dolphins would fully guarantee Howard’s $12.975 million salary on the first day of the new league year in 2022, a move that could motivate them to trade him between now and then.
If he were traded to Green Bay, Howard would have the opportunity to compete for a contender in 2021 and potentially sign wherever he pleases in 2022, as the Packers would likely have to cut him loose next offseason to reconcile their cap issues.
Trade Would Depend on Dolphins Eating Cost
The Packers would have much less to worry about in their secondary if Howard was brought into the fold, but there are plenty of obstacles that could also prevent Brian Gutekunst from hopping on the phone and getting something done, namely cost.
Howard signed a five-year, $75.25 million contract extension during the 2019 offseason and carries a cap hit of $15.185 million for the current season. While the Dolphins have already paid him for six of his 17 regular-season games, they would almost certainly have to agree to keep paying a large chunk of his salary this season for Green Bay to take him. After all, according to Over the Cap, the Packers have less than $5.3 million in cap space at the moment and have few viable options left to exhaust for cap relief.
The Packers also know much more about Alexander’s shoulder injury than the rest of us do. If they believe he will return at some point in 2021, there may no reason to pull the trigger on a big-time cornerback trade. Alexander and Stokes have the makings of a long-term secondary duo for the Packers with Alexander expected to be a top candidate for a contract extension heading into the 2022 season (as his fifth-year option is worth $13.294 million and probably too pricey to fit on the books as is).
Either way, the Packers have a little less than two weeks to decide on whether they want to pursue a trade before the deadine.