Former Bucs First-Round Pick Released by Super Bowl Contender: Report

OJ Howard

Getty Ex-Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard is expected to be released by Buffalo on Tuesday.

Once a promising prospect with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, tight end O.J. Howard will look for a new team again.

The Buffalo Bills will release Howard according to a source via NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Howard joined the Bills this year as a free agent with a 1-year year, $3.5 million deal.

In the preseason, Howard tallied three catches for 16 yards and a touchdown though he failed to secure a spot on the team. A favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, Buffalo will go with Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney, and Quinton Morris per Pro Football Talk’s Myles Simmons.

Tampa Bay drafted Howard in 2017 from Alabama with the 19th pick in the first round. Howard impressed as a rookie with  26 catches for 432 yards and six touchdowns. He produced strong numbers in 2018 with 34 catches for 565 yards and five touchdowns, but he never quite matched that output again.

Howard mustered four touchdowns over the next three seasons for the Bucs. He caught 34 passes for 459 yards in 2019, but he posted fewer than 15 receptions and 150 yards the next two seasons with the team amid injury.

Howard Not the Same Since Achilles Injury

His Achilles injury in 2020 thwarted a promising start with quarterback Tom Brady. Howard posted 11 receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns in four games.

Returning from the injury didn’t go as planned in 2021 where he managed 14 catches for 135 yards and touchdown in 17 games played. The Bucs also needed Howard to step up when tight end Rob Gronkowski missed five games due to injuries in 2021.

Whether or not the Bucs would welcome back Howard remains to be seen — especially considering the Bills’ decision. The Bucs still have veteran Cameron Brate, and the team signed former Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph to help alleviate Gronkowski’s retirement. Tampa Bay also drafted rookies Cade Otton and Ko Kieft this spring. Otton caught three passes for 47 yards in the preseason while Kieft played a blocking role as he did in college.

Why Howard Didn’t Pan Out in Buffalo

Buffalo notably doesn’t benefit by releasing Howard, taking a hit of $3.2 million in dead salary cap space per Spotrac. Howard,  who was expected to be the second tight end behind Dawson Knox, didn’t pan out for the Bills and entered the final preseason game on the roster bubble per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

“|Buffalo, with its high-powered offense driven by Josh Allen, seemed like a perfect place for Howard to get back on track, but it really hasn’t happened,” Maiorana wrote on August 24. “As the regular season opener against the Rams gets closer and closer, we’re still waiting for Howard to show something in practice and in the practice games.”

“Meanwhile, two unheralded players, Tommy Sweeney and Quintin Morris, have been flashing ever since that first workout back in Pittsford,” Maiorana added.

Morris, who split time between the active roster and practice squad in 2021, had four catches for 55 yards in the preseason. Sweeney, who played 13 games last year, had two catches for 36 yards and Morris caught a 12-yard pass in the preseason finale. Knox led Bills tight ends last season with 49 catches for 587 yards and nine touchdowns.

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