If the latest rumors surrounding Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard are true, the Chicago Bears find themselves in a very interesting situation. Wednesday, The Athletic’s Michael Lombardi was a guest on the GM Shuffle podcast, and he said a league source told him the Bucs were looking to trade Howard.
“I think Howard’s got a great name, but I think there’s an instinctive issue going on,” said Lombardi said of Howard and the Buccaneers. “I think he’s going to be available.” Lombardi also noted Howard could be traded as early as next week.
The Bears just signed veteran Jimmy Graham to a two-year $16 million deal, and they currently have 10 tight ends on the team — but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to grab Howard in a trade with the Bucs. Here are a few possible trade scenarios:
1. Tarik Cohen & 2020 6th Rounder for Howard
- Tarik Cohen, the Bears All-Pro punt returner and gadget running back, has been the subject of trade rumors over the past several months. The Buccaneers don’t really need a wide receiver, but a gadget back like Cohen could make newly acquired quarterback Tom Brady’s life a bit easier. Bruce Arians would also likely be interested in giving his special teams return unit a boost, which Cohen would immediately do.
Cohen was an All-Pro in 2018, when he had over 1,150 all-purpose yards on offense in addition to his dynamic punt returns, and he’ll be 25 in July. He hasn’t suffered a major or concerning injury in his three seasons despite being undersized, and he could be a player Arians might see some value in.
2. Trey Burton & 2020 5th Rounder for Howard
- There’s also sending Burton to Tampa as a replacement option for Howard, although it would likely require at minimum an additional fifth-round pick — quite possibly more, as Burton has remained relatively unproven. He had a solid debut season with the Bears in 2018, when he started 16 games and caught 54 passes for 569 yards and six scores. Burton missed the 2018 Wild Card game against the Eagles due to a groin injury, and he battled hip, calf and groin injuries all throughout the 2019 season.
Arians may balk at Burton as an option, but he could also look back on his 2018 season and be intrigued. If you’re Ryan Pace, though, don’t you at least ask?
3. A 2020 or 2021 Second-Round Pick for Howard
- Lombardi noted that when the Bucs had shopped Howard previously, they were looking for a second-round draft pick in return. “They wanted a second-round pick for him at the trading deadline (that) no one would give them,” Lombardi said. If that’s still the case, the Bears have two picks in the second round this year — No. 43 and No. 50. They’re rumored to be interested in taking a tight end in the second round, but why not instead get a proven commodity in Howard?
Howard is due around $2 million in 2020, which the Bears absolutely could afford. In his three seasons with the Bucs, he has started 36 games, and he has 1,456 yards on 94 receptions. He also has 12 scores, and averages 15.5 yards per reception. Howard is also young — he turns 26-years-old in November. If the Bears play this right, he could be their tight end for the next several seasons.
The Bears are paying Jimmy Graham $9 million this year, but Graham’s dead cap hit in 2021 is just $3 million. They have a ridiculous amount of tight ends, but none come close to Howard in terms of skill level or potential. Chicago could release the great majority of the tight ends currently on its roster (including Adam Shaheen) and keep Burton, Graham and Howard.
If Graham and/or Burton were to fall short of expectations, one or both could be cut next year without the team taking too big of a fiscal hit. The Bears have a chance to take a position of weakness last season and turn it into a position of strength with the acquisition of Howard. The question is, will they do it?