Former Buccaneers First-Round Pick to Sign With Contender: Report

Todd Bowles

Getty Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles was part of some tough decisions as the 53-man roster deadline passed on Tuesday, August 30.

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard is on the move again after being released by the Buffalo Bills. Howard is meeting with the Bengals and is expected to sign with the former AFC champions, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

“That was fast: The Bengals are hosting FA TE OJ Howard on a visit today and assuming all goes well with the physical, he’s expected to sign, source said,” Rapoport tweeted on August 31. “The former first-rounder was a surprising cut yesterday and this should come together today.”

Howard signed with the Bills over the offseason but was beat out in the starting tight end competition with Buffalo opting to keep Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney and Quintin Morris over the ex-Bucs playmaker. The former first-round pick snagged 14 receptions for 135 yards and one touchdown during his 17 appearances for the Buccaneers in 2021. Howard’s best season came in 2018 when the tight end notched 34 catches for 459 yards and a touchdown during 10 games for Tampa Bay.

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The Bucs Selected Howard With the No. 19 Pick in 2017 NFL Draft

Tampa Bay selected Howard with the No. 19 pick in the 2017 NFL draft as the former Alabama standout became the first tight end to come off the board. Howard’s career has not had the ascension that typically is expected from a top-20 pick, but the playmaker has had less than ideal circumstances at the beginning of his pro career.

The tight end battled injuries early in Tampa, including a torn Achilles. When Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement to sign with the Bucs, Howard saw his starting spot evaporate. According to The Athletic’s Paul Dehner Jr., Cincinnati considered using a top-10 pick on Howard before selecting former Washington receiver John Ross.

“Mentioned this upon OJ Howard’s release yesterday. Bengals really liked Howard coming out the year they picked John Ross,” Dehner said on Twitter. “They have really been lacking in TE depth all offseason. Howard is an upgrade in the back of the room, but he’s not coming for Hayden Hurst’s snaps.”

Howard Signed a $3.5 Million Contract With the Bills This Offseason

The Bills’ decision to release Howard was a surprising one given the team signed the tight end to a one-year, $3.5 million deal this offseason, with $3.1 million of guaranteed money. Howard was unable to live up to the contract during his short stint in Buffalo, prompting the team to release him.

“O.J. Howard’s deal with the Bills included $3.19 million guaranteed, so they’re paying him a lot not to play for [them],” The Athletic’s Greg Auman noted on Twitter. “He’ll land with another NFL team, but it’s telling that Buffalo would move on at such expense.”

As for the Bucs, the team plans to lean on Cameron Brate and new addition Kyle Rudolph to help replace some of the lost production with Gronkowski’s retirement. Tampa Bay also has two rookies, Cade Otton and Ko Kieft, who could see playing time early given the absence of both Gronkowski and Howard.

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