O.J. Howard

O.J. Howard On Track To Participate In Buccaneers’ Offseason Program

O.J. Howard appears to be navigating Achilles rehab well. The fifth-year tight end is on track to participate in the Buccaneers’ offseason program, should the NFL proceed with onsite workouts this year.

Howard suffered an Achilles tear in early October of last year, but Bruce Arians confirmed the former first-round pick is close to taking a key step. While Howard should not be expected to be full-go until training camp, the fact that he has resumed running at all represents a positive development for a player who has battled some injury trouble as a pro.

He’s not running on the grass yet, but he’s really close. The last time I checked (he) was 85% body weight running in ‘AlterG’ and looks fantastic,” Arians said of Howard’s pace on a customized treadmill, via Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com. “I don’t see any setbacks. If and when we can get together in this offseason program, he’ll be ready to go.

What a huge addition to have him back because he was having a great year. I think, again, the sky’s the limit for what he can do in this offense.”

Howard seemed a better fit for Dirk Koetter‘s offense, posting 565 receiving yards in just 10 games in 2018. After recovering from knee, ankle and foot injuries, Howard did not fare as well in Arians’ first season. The Alabama alum played 14 games but was not the same kind of factor in 2019. He popped up in trade rumors, with the Bucs discussing him in a deal that would have sent then-Washington left tackle Trent Williams to Tampa. But Howard stayed. The Bucs picked up his fifth-year option, and the October injury essentially ensured it would vest. Howard, 26, is due $6MM this season.

Tampa Bay re-signed Rob Gronkowski and still has Cameron Brate on its roster. The Bucs also are working on re-signing Antonio Brown. This would make for another crowded pass-catching situation, but Howard remains in the Super Bowl champions’ plans at this point.

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O.J. Howard Has Torn Achilles

The Buccaneers pulled off an impressive comeback to beat the Chargers on Sunday, but they didn’t escape unscathed. Tight end O.J. Howard suffered a torn achilles and will be done for the year, head coach Bruce Arians announced after the game. As expected, the Bucs will place Howard on season-ending injured reserve, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

It’s a brutal blow for a Bucs offense that is already banged up. Leonard Fournette and Chris Godwin both didn’t play Sunday, and Arians said he doesn’t expect Godwin to play in Week 5 either. Howard was starting to develop a real rapport for Brady, and he had 50 yards and a touchdown against Los Angeles before going down. The 19th overall pick of the 2017 draft, Howard had his fifth-year option exercised by the team back in April.

Fortunately for him that option year is guaranteed for injury and since he likely won’t be healthy by the start of next league year, he should be locked into that $6MM salary. The Alabama product has been solid through his first few years, but never really broke out with Jameis Winston.

His best year was in 2018 when he had 565 yards and five touchdowns in only ten games. Last year he took a bit of a step back, with 459 yards and only one score in 14 games. With Howard on the shelf Rob Gronkowski, who hasn’t had a huge role in the passing game, should see an increase in targets.

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Bucs Notes: Brady, TEs, OL, Free Agency

Tom Brady‘s transition to a new team in advance of his 21st NFL season has obviously been less than ideal, with the COVID-19 pandemic preventing the future Hall of Famer from working with teammates and coaches at the Buccaneers‘ facility. The first time the soon-to-be 43-year-old quarterback is expected to be permitted to enter his new team’s facilities will be training camp. But the Bucs do not plan to compensate for this by giving Brady more preseason work. Bruce Arians said Thursday he doubts Brady will need more preseason time to make up for the virtual offseason, per Greg Auman of The Athletic (on Twitter). Still, Brady’s preseason snaps figure to be more important than usual this year.

Here is the latest out of Tampa:

  • Arians has not gotten much out of the tight end position during his stay as head coach in Arizona and Tampa. That should soon change. The Bucs currently house an all-time tight end stable, with Rob Gronkowski joining the team’s O.J. HowardCameron Brate duo already regarded as one of the NFL’s best. Arians said the Bucs will use a two-tight end offense as their base this season (via Auman, on Twitter). Going with more “12 personnel” looks would give Howard and Brate more time on the field and potentially represent an effort to conserve Gronkowski, who retired partially because of injury issues last year. This also points to the Bucs giving stronger consideration to keeping all three tight ends rather than trading Howard or Brate. Arians even said he’s interested in three-tight end looks.
  • Tampa Bay is not expected to make a move to add interior offensive linemen to back up starters Ali Marpet, Alex Cappa and Ryan Jensen, Arians added (via Auman, on Twitter). The Bucs did not draft any guards or centers, but Arians likes what he has seen from backups Aaron Stinnie, Anthony Fabiano and Zack Bailey. A fifth-year blocker, Fabiano is now on his eighth team. Stinnie was a 2018 Titans UDFA; Bailey was a Bucs 2019 UDFA who spent much of last year on IR.
  • However, the Bucs are keeping multiple roster spots open for possible veteran additions. Arians said (via Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com, on Twitter) he and GM Jason Licht discussed saving room for veterans who would be more prepared to play than rookie UDFAs. With Brady on a two-year deal, Tampa Bay stockpiling vets would make sense.

Trade Candidate(s): Buccaneers’ O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate

To say that the Buccaneers are stacked at tight end would be a gross understatement. Even before the Bucs reunited Tom Brady with longtime teammate and bro Rob Gronkowski, they had the formidable 1-2 combo of O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. Weeks after the draft, the Bucs still have that ludicrously talented TE trio in place. Logically, at least one of them probably has to go…and it obviously won’t be Gronk. 

The Buccaneers listened on trade offers for Brate and Howard towards the end of last month, but they didn’t get any offers to their liking. Publicly, the Bucs said they were okay with having all three TEs on the roster. Then, before the early May deadline, they exercised Howard’s fifth-year option for 2021. This doesn’t automatically mean that Brate is the odd man out, or that they’ll commit a total of ~$20MM to the position. Howard’s option – guaranteed for injury only – doesn’t hamper the Bucs’ ability to trade him. Also, this surplus of TEs would be opulent, even by Brady’s standards.

Howard, ostensibly, holds more trade value than Brate. The Alabama product hasn’t lived up to his first-round billing, but he’s flashed serious ability and uncommon athleticism for a 6’6″ receiver. The Bills saw that first-hand last year, as Howard went off for six catches, 98 yards, and two scores in Buffalo. And, roughly one year earlier against the Eagles, he got nearly as many yards, just with better efficiency – three catches for 96 yards, mostly thanks to a 75-yard connection with Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Teams aren’t sleeping on Brate, either. It’s true that he’ll turn 29 in July (Howard won’t be 26 until November), but he’s a proven playmaker and blocker. Between 2016 and 2017, he averaged 52 catches for 625 yards and seven TDs. After that, the Bucs rewarded him with a six-year, $41MM deal, including $18MM guaranteed. He’s been slowed by a surgically-repaired hip, but he’s more than a year removed from the operating table. It also helps that the Bucs restructured his deal in January. The exact terms of the restructure aren’t clear, but he’s probably on the books for less than the $4.5MM in guaranteed dollars he was slated for.

Howard wouldn’t be especially pricey for other teams, either – his rookie deal calls for a 2020 cap hit of just $3.5MM. The Bucs, meanwhile, would carry a $1.5MM charge for trading him.

The Bucs didn’t find any worthwhile deals for them in April, but interest should pick up between now and September. Even after drafting Cincinnati’s Josiah Deguara in the third round, the Packers could use a high-end TE to pair with Marcedes Lewis. The Bengals may also want to give the Bucs a call as they look to surround Joe Burrow with extra artillery. The list goes on. Depending on the asking price, the Bucs could have a market of 20+ teams for either Howard or Brate.

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Bucs Pick Up O.J. Howard’s Fifth-Year Option

The subject of trade rumors this year and before the 2019 deadline, O.J. Howard‘s future in Tampa Bay is uncertain. But the Bucs will pick up Howard’s fifth-year option, per a team announcement.

This will keep Howard under Bucs control through the 2021 season. While the new CBA mandates fifth-year options become fully guaranteed, the 2017 first-round class will be grandfathered in under the old system. Howard’s 2021 salary will be guaranteed for injury only, giving the Bucs flexibility.

Howard’s option will be worth just more than $6MM. Even though Howard has not been a focal point in Bruce Arians‘ offense, that represents an affordable price. For the time being, Howard is part of one of the highest-profile tight end groups in modern NFL history. He, Cameron Brate and the recently acquired Rob Gronkowski comprise said group. Brate is set to make $4.25MM in 2020; Gronk will count $9.25MM toward Tampa Bay’s cap. Howard will count just $3.5MM in 2020.

Jason Licht said recently the Bucs plan to team up Howard and Gronkowski. This, however, came shortly after a report indicated the team nearly traded Howard for then-Redskins tackle Trent Williams. Considering Gronk retired largely because of health concerns 13 months ago, it would make sense the Bucs keep he and Brate for insurance purposes. But it remains possible either Howard or Brate is shipped out.

The former Alabama tight end caught 34 passes for 565 yards in just 10 games in 2018, looking like a budding standout in Dirk Koetter‘s final season in Tampa. But an injury cut his season short. While Howard matched that catch total last season, it took him 14 games to do so during an up-and-down campaign. He stands to be one of Tom Brady‘s weapons this season.

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No Realistic Trade Offers For O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate

The Buccaneers have about $20MM of salary cap space tied up at the tight end position between Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate, and there was plenty of speculation that the club could look to deal either Howard or Brate now that Gronk is in the fold.

However, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, no realistic trade options presented themselves to Tampa (Twitter link). We heard a few days ago that the team nearly dealt Howard to the Redskins in exchange for Trent Williams back in February, so Fowler’s report may simply mean that no viable trade proposals surfaced after the Gronk acquisition on April 21 and throughout this weekend’s draft. In any event, it looks as if Tom Brady will have all three players at his disposal in 2020.

Fowler adds that the Bucs never felt the need to trade a tight end and that they are comfortable with their significant financial investment in the position. But it’s not as though they really have a choice. It’s much more likely that an opposing team would pursue Howard instead of Brate, and Howard carries a 2020 cap charge of just $3.5MM, $1.5MM of which would remain on the Bucs’ cap even if he were traded. One way or another, the overall TE cap hit is significant, so it makes sense to simply give Brady as many options as possible and to see if he can help Howard start to realize his potential. GM Jason Licht acknowledged as much several hours before this year’s draft got underway.

It remains unclear if the Bucs will pick up Howard’s fifth-year option for 2021. Though the option would be guaranteed for injury only since Howard was a 2017 draft choice, the Alabama product has not lived up to his status as a first-round selection, so his future in Tampa remains up in the air.

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Buccaneers Want To Keep O.J. Howard

With the Buccaneers trading for Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard trade rumors have emerged. But Jason Licht is attempting to quiet them.

The Bucs GM said Thursday he wants to have both Gronk and Howard on the 2020 team, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter).

We’re excited about having O.J. Howard play with Rob Gronkowski,” Licht said. “Why wouldn’t you want to have many weapons at that position? We have an excellent tight end group right now.”

This group includes Cameron Brate, who is signed to a $6.8MM-per-year deal. Howard’s rookie contract runs through 2020, though the Bucs can extend it to 2021 via the fifth-year option. Gronkowski is under contract for one more season and, having just unretired, obviously should be treated as a year-to-year player at this point.

A another report pointed to the Bucs indeed being interested in moving their 2017 first-round pick. Another indicated the Bucs were discussing a Howard deal with the tight end-needy Redskins — a swap that would have brought Trent Williams to Tampa — at least a month ago. Howard was also in trade rumors before the 2019 deadline, having not fit into Bruce Arians‘ offense as well as he had Dirk Koetter‘s.

It would be surprising if Tampa Bay kept all three tight ends, but the team would have one of the great tight end stables in NFL history if it chose to do so. Gronkowski has not exactly been a beacon of health during his career, so the Bucs keeping Brate and Howard would make sense from an insurance standpoint. But the two holdovers may not be especially happy with their roles during the games Gronk plays.

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Bucs Nearly Traded O.J. Howard For Trent Williams

Now that Rob Gronkowski has joined Tom Brady in Tampa Bay, incumbent Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard has become an even more obvious trade candidate than he previously was. Turns, out, the Bucs already tried to deal him earlier this year.

Two months ago, Tampa Bay nearly traded Howard to the Redskins in exchange for offensive tackle Trent Williams, according to Jenna Laine of ESPN.com. It’s unclear if the proposed swap would have involved other players or draft picks, but in either case, the deal fell through.

Williams, of course, has been on the trade block for some time, and may still be moved this week. Had Tampa Bay been able to acquire him, Williams almost surely would have taken over at left tackle, allowing the Buccaneers to move Donovan Smith to the right side and improving their offensive line in one fell swoop.

Notably, talks involving Howard and the Redskins occurred before Brady decided on Tampa Bay and before Gronkowski came out of retirement to join him. That’s perhaps not altogether surprising, as Howard was reportedly available since the 2019 trade deadline. But a Howard deal makes all the more sense now given that Gronk has made his way to the Buccaneers.

Howard, who’s posted 34 receptions in each of the past two seasons, has one year plus a 2021 option remaining on his contract. Tampa Bay — or whatever team potentially acquires Howard — has until May 5 to exercise that option, which would be fully guaranteed.

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Bucs TE O.J. Howard On Trade Block?

Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard was reportedly available prior to the 2019 trade deadline, and he could be shopped again. As former NFL executive Michael Lombardi indicated on a recent episode of his GM Shuffle podcast, Tampa Bay could trade Howard either before or during next week’s draft.

Although Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has never heavily featured a tight end in his offense, Howard’s 2019 reception and yardage totals were largely in line with his career norms, but he scored only a single touchdown. Arians spoke repeatedly about getting Howard more involved in Tampa Bay’s offense, but the former first-round pick still has yet to truly break out.

Last year, the Buccaneers were reportedly only willing to deal Howard for a “substantial return.” Per Lombardi, the club was looking for a second-round pick. The Patriots, for one, inquired on Howard at the 2019 trade deadline, and although talks didn’t go anywhere, it’s possible New England could reach out again.

Howard, 25, has one year remaining on his rookie contract, although the Bucs (or any team that acquires Howard) can exercise a fifth-year option for the 2021 campaign. Under the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement, that fifth-year option would be fully guaranteed.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bucs Notes: Winston, Godwin, Howard

In addition to the thumb injury that we heard about in early January, Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston was also playing through a torn meniscus for at least some of 2019, as Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reports (video link). Per Rapoport, Winston recently had surgery to trim the meniscus tear.

Though Winston’s boom-or-bust tendencies remain an obvious concern, the toughness that he displayed in battling the injuries may help him land a new contract with Tampa, which may have winnowed down its quarterback options to Winston and Philip Rivers.

Now for more from the Bucs:

  • Standout receiver Chris Godwin is now eligible for an extension since he has completed three years in the league, but that is not a front-burner item on the Bucs’ agenda just yet, per Greg Auman of The Athletic. Auman says the club will look to take care of its 2020 FAs first and then see if there is money left in the budget for a new contract for Godwin. Barring something unforeseen, it would be a huge surprise if Tampa lets Godwin hit the open market in 2021.
  • There were rumors that the Bucs were looking to trade much-maligned TE O.J. Howard at the 2019 deadline, and though that did not happen, the former first-rounder was still viewed as a trade candidate this offseason. But as Auman notes, the club still believes in Howard, and it sounds like he will be back in 2020. Fellow TE Cameron Brate, however, could be a trade or release candidate.
  • The Bucs are very young at CB, which has led many to believe that the club will draft a corner with an early pick or sign one in the first wave of free agency, but that’s not necessarily the case. As Auman writes, Tampa is very high on Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, and Sean Murphy-Bunting, so a late-round pick or modest FA signing may be more likely.
  • Likewise, Tampa is bullish on its cadre of safeties, but 2017 second-rounder Justin Evans‘s stock is trending downward, per Auman. Evans has not been healthy enough to practice in a long time, and although the team hoped he would be fully recovered by April 1 and would participate in spring workouts at OTAs, it’s now unclear whether he will be back at all.
  • Unsurprisingly, it does not sound like the Bucs will look to re-sign free agent RB Peyton Barber, per Auman.