Despite limited production and a lack of a role in Bruce Arians’ wide receiver-heavy offense, the Bucs were reluctant to deal tight end O.J. Howard at last year’s deadline.
The Patriots called Tampa about the former first-rounder and were told no, but that might be changing, at least according to former Belichick confidant Michael Lombardi.
Speaking on the GM Shuffle podcast, Lombardi reports the Bucs could look to deal the former first-round pick, seeking a second-round pick in return.
Lombardi continued to say that he believes Howard is a “good name” but is struggling due to poor football instincts and a general feel for the game.
Howard was on an upward trajectory posting an 89.1 PFF grade in 2018 (third among tight ends) while averaging 6.4 yards after the catch, but his production tanked the following season.
The Patriots likely covet Howard’s two-way ability as both a receiver and blocker, and frankly, he was always more of a blocking tight end going back to his college days at Alabama.
He’s still a viable pass catcher, where he has success on over routes or crossers, digs, slot fades, and corner patterns. On the play above, Howard gets matched up with a zone-dropping linebacker in cover-three. He shakes the defender at the top of the route, makes a great cut to get around the oncoming safety, and accelerates down the sideline for a touchdown.
Here, Howard beats man coverage on a corner route. He works through contact in his stem to stack the defender, then sells an inside fake to create a passing window, making a good adjustment on the over the top throw.
Then, there are his blocking abilities. The Bucs use Howard as a lead blocker on the play above, and he gets enough of Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly to make a hole for Peyton Barber.
Lombardi also said that Tampa Bay wanted a second-round pick at last year’s trade deadline for Howard, although my understanding was that the Bucs didn’t want to move the tight end.
If we believe Lombardi’s report, the Pats opted to trade a second-rounder for wide receiver Mohamed Sanu but weren’t willing to make the same trade for Howard.
Some of that likely stems from Howard’s lack of game-day production, which is a head-scratcher for many, even his current head coach, Bruce Arians.
“It’s hard to say (what’s wrong),” Arians said last November. “He’s a talented, talented guy, but it’s not showing up on Sundays.”
The Bucs were unable to get a second-round pick for Howard last year, so it seems unlikely that the Patriots would change course now with only one year remaining on Howard’s rookie deal.
But if they lower their asking price, Howard offers substantially more upside and an immediate plug-and-play starter that New England will not get in an underwhelming tight end draft.