Should Packers Explore Trade for Bucs’ Young Tight End?

OJ Howard Packers Trade Target

Getty O.J. Howard #80 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scores a touchdown during the fourth quarter of an NFL game against the Buffalo Bills on October 22, 2017 at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York.

If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are serious about wanting to trade away their starting tight end, the Green Bay Packers should be one of the first teams to give them a call.

According to The Athletic’s Michael Lombardi, the Bucs are attempting to trade O.J. Howard and could be looking to get a deal done for their former first-round pick within the next week. Howard caught 34 passes for 459 yards and a touchdown in 2019 but touts a three-year career average of 15.5 yards per reception with a total of 1,456 yards and 12 touchdowns to his name.

“I think Howard’s got a great name, but I think there’s an instinctive issue going on,” Lombardi said on the GM Shuffle podcast. “I think he’s going to be available. It would not surprise me if he was traded on draft day or the day before.”

The Packers are heading into the 2020 season looking for a new starting tight end after cutting ties with former starter Jimmy Graham this offseason. There are options available on their current roster, but picking up an established player with some proven playmaking ability could help provide quarterback Aaron Rodgers with another effective passing target.

The Bucs attempted to trade Howard at last season’s trade deadline, seeking a second-round pick but finding no one willing to give one up. As such, they could now be willing to give him up for less — maybe a third- or fourth-rounder — if they were adamant about moving on.

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What are Packers’ Current Options at TE?

The Packers currently have five tight ends on their roster for next season: Jace Sternberger, Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Evan Baylis and James Looney. But each one of them comes with a degree of uncertainty as a possible starter.

Baylis has been almost exclusively a practice-squad player for the Packers since joining the team in December 2018, while Looney was converted from a defensive lineman to tight end late last season. Both could make an impression in training camp that earns them playing time, but the other three are the real candidates for the job.

Sternberger, who was the Packers’ third-round pick last year, seems to be the most obvious choice at this point. He missed much of his rookie season with an injury, but he did show potential to play a bigger role moving forward with some impact plays in the postseason. The Packers have been high on his potential — including a vote of confidence from the veteran Lewis — but that doesn’t guarantee him the job. Tonyan will undoubtedly push for the role as well, looking to bounce back after his own injury struggles forced him to undergo surgery this offseason.

How Much Would Howard Cost?

If the Packers aren’t sold on any of their current options, they could realistically give up one of their draft picks to bring him to Green Bay. A third-round pick would be harder to justify, but giving up anything after the second round could make for a worthwhile investment.

Howard’s current contract — which runs through 2020 with a fifth-year option in 2021 — comes with a cap hit of about $3.5 million next season, which could fit into the Packers’ budget with some slight adjustment. He would fall roughly in the same range as some of the free agents they have brought in this offseason, a little pricier than wide receiver Devin Funchess ($2.27 million) but more affordable than linebacker Christian Kirksey ($4.13 million) and offensive tackle Ricky Wagner ($4.81 million).

The Packers have about $11 million in cap space remaining, but other expenditures have them currently estimated to be over the cap in terms of spending. Still, there are plenty of ways for them to free up the necessary cap space with roster cuts, contract reworks or other methods. Don’t forget, they would also have one less draft pick to sign if they sent one away for Howard.

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