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Could Xavien Howard be Steelers CB Signing?

The Pittsburgh Steelers might be looking for a cornerback solution on the market, but is someone like Xavien Howard the correct move?

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Pittsburgh Steelers FA Target Xavien Howard

The Miami Dolphins cut star cornerback Xavien Howard at the start of the league year back in March, and so far, the former All-Pro has yet to find a new home. But could the Pittsburgh Steelers make sense for that new home?

It would be a move that would be about as splashy as they could go on that front. Someone else like Stephon Gilmore would also be a buzzy name for the team to look at on the cornerback market. The team obviously has a hole there, and they might be the two top names on the market.

Howard, 30, signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the Dolphins in 2022 and had been set to earn $18.5 million in 2024. The team will save that amount against the salary cap this season but incur a $7.4 million dead cap hit. Kristopher Knox believes Howard would be an excellent fit for the Steelers.

“While Howard wasn’t 100 percent healthy last year, he still started 13 games and allowed an opposing passer rating of only 81.3 in coverage. A return to Pro Bowl form is entirely possible for the 30-year-old, who could give Pittsburgh another strong option alongside Jackson and Joey Porter Jr,” Knox wrote.

A second-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft out of Baylor, Howard has spent his entire career in Miami. He led the NFL in interceptions twice, in 2018 and 2020, earning All-Pro nods in both of those seasons, and has been a four-time Pro Bowler.

But things haven’t been all smiles recently in South Beach. In 2021, Howard announced that he had requested a trade from Miami, claiming he was underpaid. He claimed that he only reported to training camp that season so that he wouldn’t get fined.

The Dolphins acquiesced, reworking his contract in 2021, and then signing him to a huge extension in 2022, but his play hasn’t met the demands of that new contract. Howard led the league with 10 interceptions in 2020. He had five in 2021, but just one in each of the last two seasons. This past season, he also did not force or recover a fumble and didn’t have a sack, contributing almost no splash plays to a Miami defense that finished 23rd in yards and 22nd in points allowed.

Howard remains one of the top cornerbacks on the market alongside Gilmore. Pittsburgh is searching for a slot cornerback after acquiring Donte Jackson in the Diontae Johnson trade back in March.

The Steelers will likely have a keen interest in the cornerback market following the NFL Drat. Starting outside cornerbacks Levi Wallace and Patrick Peterson are not with the team while starting slot cornerback Chandon Sullivan also hit free agency.

The issue with Howard is how he would solve the slot cornerback problem. Pittsburgh could use help on the outside, sure, but they have a trio of young cornerbacks in Cory Trice, Ryan Watts, and Darius Rush that they will want to get a close look at. In other words, they need more help on the inside than on the outside.

That makes someone like Howard less likely unless they want to shift Jackson inside. That is possible since Jackson was often considered a slot cornerback coming out of LSU. But he has played almost exclusively as an outside guy for most of his career. In other words, I’d considered the Howard outcome unlikely, but if the team has other plans for Jackson, maybe that could happen.