The Buffalo Bills have a lot of difficult decisions to make when it comes to figuring out who will make the 53-man roster, especially when it comes to tight end. While Dawson Knox has firmly secured his position as the key starter, the door has unexpectedly swung wide open for the No. 2 spot.
Back in March, when the Bills signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard, it was widely believed the team would head into the 2022 NFL season both him and Knox as starters.
However, Howard, the No. 19 overall pick from the 2017 NFL Draft, failed to impress during the Bills’ minicamp, and when Buffalo announced the offensive starting lineup for their preseason game against the Denver Broncos on Saturday, August 20, during which Knox was not attendance, Quinton Morris got the TE1 spot.
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The 6-foot-6, 251-pound tight end didn’t enter the game until after quarterback Josh Allen sat. During Allen’s six snaps, Morris (six snaps), Tommy Sweeney (five snaps), and fullback Reggie Gilliam (one snap) got a chance to play while Howard remained on the sidelines.
While Howard caught a seven-yard touchdown from backup Case Keenum and played more snaps than the other tight ends combined, The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia believes there may be an ulterior motive for his extended playing time.
Buscaglia wrote, “Howard took 34 offensive snaps (56%) by my unofficial count. He took advantage of a red zone opportunity by bringing in a touchdown at the end of the half. But you have to wonder if the extended time for Howard was the Bills putting their best foot forward to showcase the tight end for a potential trade.”
Howard was a starter in Tampa Bay for five years, however, his numbers took a huge dip during the 2021 NFL season. He recorded just 14 catches for 135 yards and one touchdown while averaging a career-low 9.6 yards per catch.
Howard’s Base Salary With the Bills Is Fully Guaranteed
It’s unlikely the Bills will simply cut Howard since his one-year $3.5 million contract included a guaranteed base salary of $1.94 million and a signing bonus of $1.25 million.
Buscaglia wrote of the 27-year-old, “The only way the team would save money by removing him would be via trade. The team would still be on the hook for Howard’s prorated $1.25 million signing bonus, but saving $2 million is notable.
“The tight end has struggled throughout training camp, and the difference in playing level from him to Sweeney and Morris hasn’t been as big of a gap as expected. On top of that, Howard gives them nothing on special teams, as he did not take a single rep on a core-four unit through the first half. But Howard’s competition did get those reps. Morris played prominently on those units and Sweeney worked in during the second quarter.”
According to Buscaglia, the Bills won’t want to risk putting either Morris or Sweeney on waivers while the Giants continue to snatch up nearly every cast-off coming out of Buffalo:
With Giants general manager Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll having as strong of an opinion on those players as the Bills do, it decreases the likelihood the Bills can sneak them to the practice squad. Further strengthening the case, the Giants’ tight end group is one of the weakest on their roster, with fourth-round rookie Daniel Bellinger atop their depth chart and not much behind him. Is one year of Howard worth the $2 million if the gap to Sweeney and Morris isn’t that noticeable? That’s what the Bills will need to figure out, in what is quickly turning into one of the more intriguing decisions they make Aug. 30.
The Bills’ Second Round of Cuts Happen on Tuesday
Following the NFL’s first cut deadline on August 16, the Bills’ released two players, which put the team one man under the 85-player maximum. Buffalo can now add one more prospective player before Tuesday, August 23, when the team has to cut the roster down to 80 players.
The Bills will one more preseason game, against the Carolina Panthers on Friday, August 26, to help figure out which players to cut or release.
The final round cuts have to be made by Tuesday, August 30, when Buffalo will have to bring the roster down to 53 players.
The Bills’ most recent signing happened on July 30, when they cut rookie Travon Fuller in order to sign former New Orleans Saints cornerback Jordan Miller, the latter of whom still remains on the team’s roster.
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