The PR Bucs Monday Mailbag is where PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook answers your questions from our Twitter account. You can submit your question each week via Twitter using the hashtag #PRMailbag.

Below are the questions we chose for this week’s edition of the PR Bucs Monday Mailbag.

Question: Do you think we start next season with O.J. Howard and Cam Brate both on the team after the tight end position was so rarely utilized last year?

Answer: It depends on if the Bucs were to receive a trade offer they couldn’t refuse for O.J. Howard. I suspect the Patriots, who had genuine interest at the trade deadline last October, may come back around to inquire about Howard’s availability around the 2020 NFL Draft.

If the Buccaneers didn’t have two Pro Bowl wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, I think we would see Howard more involved in the game plan, but it is really hard for Bruce Arians and play-caller Byron Leftwich to not look to the team’s big-play wide receivers first. An argument could be made that focusing on the tight end more could open things up for the receivers, but when Tampa Bay has two of the best in the game already, does it really need to open things up for them? Evans and Godwin are elite in their own right and know how to get open. It’s nearly impossible for opponents to double both at the same time.

Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Even if both Howard and Cameron Brate are in the team’s plan for 2020, I still think the Buccaneers will look to re-do Brate’s contract to free up more salary cap space. With a $6 million cap hit in 2020, it is hard to justify paying that much for a No. 2 tight end that had just 36 receptions, 311 yards, four touchdowns with a pedestrian 8.6 yard per catch average last season.

With that said, Brate is one of the toughest players on the team, plays through injury, is smart and is a great locker room guy. Plus, he has great chemistry with Jameis Winston, so that could be a factor if Winston returns at quarterback in 2020. Despite those important aspects, I still would be shocked if the Bucs don’t try and save some money with Brate, similarly like they did with defensive tackle Beau Allen last year when the two sides agreed on a salary cut. The only way they don’t do that is if Howard gets dealt in a trade and Brate assumes the No. 1 tight end role again.

Question: Do you expect – and is it realistic to think – the Bucs should have a Top 10 defense next year (depending on re-signings, of course)?

Answer: If everyone returns then why not? The last six games of the season the Bucs had a Top 10 defense, and another year in defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ system should only make this unit better. Staying healthy, of course, will be key, and that was something the defense was able to do for the most part in 2020. There were some guys banged up that missed some game here and there, such as rookie middle linebacker Devin White, but it was far from a M*A*S*H unit.

Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The one other big factor is how hungry this unit will be. Assuming outside linebacker Shaq Barrett gets the long-term deal he is looking for and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh are back. Both Barrett and Pierre-Paul had much to prove in 2019, and exceeded expectations. Can they do it again?

Do second-year defenders Jamal Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting and White believe the success they has last season as rookies will just carry over this year? The one thing the defense can’t do is rely on past success. Teams will be better prepared for Barrett, Dean, Murphy-Bunting, White and some of the other players on this defense after having a year of film on them in Bowles’ scheme.

Question: Being a Josh Freeman defender, until seeing him fail elsewhere, I was glad to see Scott Reynolds mention in this week’s Fab 5 that Freeman’s fall was his own fault not Greg Schiano’s. What was really wrong with Freeman?

Answer: There are plenty of theories out there about the downfall of former first-round pick Josh Freeman, and the answer is still floating around – but for someone else to tell. The best person being Freeman himself. He had some serious issues going on and we at PewterReport.com will just leave it at that.

I will say while I don’t pin the blame on Greg Schiano, he was the probably the wrong coach for Freeman at the time. Schiano wasn’t the type of coach to baby anyone. His perceived reputation was pretty true to his actual character. He once even challenged former defensive tackle Brian Price to go a couple rounds with him during an argument. So Schiano wasn’t going to play shrink before any player or buddy up to really anyone, and little special treatment was handed out to players.

Schiano did try to help Freeman somewhat, but his patience was limited and he moved on quickly by turning the reigns over to Mike Glennon, who was the team’s third-round pick in 2013, during Freeman’s fifth-year option – which was his last year in Tampa Bay.

Former Bucs head coach Greg Schiano and ex-QB Josh Freeman - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Former Bucs head coach Greg Schiano and ex-QB Josh Freeman – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Players tend to take on the personality of their head coach and we saw that with Raheem Morris being a laid back kind-of-guy, yet full of bravado. We also saw players take on the high-strung personality of Schiano as well and tighten up at the end of games – and not in a good way. It just wasn’t a good fit for Freeman at that point in his life. It’s a shame he didn’t work out elsewhere because he had the physical talent to play in the league. But his issues and his lack of dedication got the best of him.

Question: If the Bucs keep Jameis Winston as a starter, what will the Bucs do about the backup QB spot? I am weary of having a backup QB who seems incapable of playing in the NFL.

Answer: I wouldn’t be shocked to see Blaine Gabbert back as the backup, as long as his shoulder is fully healed and he is cleared to play. Bruce Arians and Jason Licht really liked Gabbert despite his limited success in the NFL. And had Gabbert not gotten hurt, I think we would have seen him in the starting lineup after the six-turnover performance against the Panthers in London.

Who knows how he would have fared, but did anyone genuinely think Ryan Tannehill would have played the way he did after Tennessee had seen enough of Marcus Mariota? There was really nothing obvious in Tannehill’s time in Miami that would have led many people to believe he would lead the Titans to the AFC Championship game and win the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year honors. At least not in my eyes.

Bucs QB Blaine Gabbert
Bucs QB Blaine Gabbert – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Until the Bucs’ starting QB position is decided upon I think that the backup situation isn’t even being discussed much right now. Tampa Bay is likely to draft a quarterback whether or not Winston returns, or even if the Bucs sign one of the bigger free agent QBs.

The big question will be whether it is going to happen on Day 2 or Day 3. At that point he would battle Ryan Griffin most likely for the No. 3 job. Although Griffin is slated to count $1.6 million against the 2020 cap, but the team could cut him and choose to move on and not have any dead money.

Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at [email protected]
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BigSombrero

This draft is not a good year for tight ends according to many in the media. If supply and demand are applied, I would think it elevates any good tight ends value regarding a trade, especially those on a rookie deal like OJ.

Teams in the market for a TE include: Whichever team Brady ends up playing for, Indy(lost Ebron), LA Chargers(H.Henry free agent), Carolina(lost Olsen), Atlanta(Hooper FA), and maybe a few surprise teams like Dallas, New Orleans, Chicago, LVR, or even Seattle.

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Rating: +10. From 14 votes.
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Pete Wood

I think Howard is just going to get worse. Does he have a bad work ethic? Is he a bad fit? Or does he just not get it? I dunno, but he’s not playing like a first round draft pick and the Bucs have an abundance of riches at tight end.
Keep Brate, move Hudson up to second, and trade Howard for a draft pick before his value falls even more.

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Rating: +24. From 28 votes.
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e

I’d like the Bucs to look into trading a late round pick for QB Josh Rosen with the Fins to back up Jameis. He’s really not had any chance to develop and his a big arm.

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Gatordoc1

he struggled in Arizona and couldn’t beat out Fitz-magic. If the Fins would take a 6th or 7th round pick then Ok. Otherwise, no thanks

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Rating: +8. From 12 votes.
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Dman

Hard to see Howard commanding a premium pick trade value given his lackluster performance and injury history. No idea who we should have taken back in 2017, but Howard was such a wasted pick. He’s not a bad player, just not a RD1 or even a RD2 guy.

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Rating: -3. From 25 votes.
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Pete Wood

Hey, Mark Cook!!
What round draft pick could Bucs get for Howard?

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Rating: +1. From 3 votes.
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Captain Sly

Howard’s rare Size, Speed & Talent made him a 1st rd pick. He has not being properly used in BA’s system and it’s a shame. I would hate for a team like the Saints or Atlanta to get him because he’s a match up nightmare for any defense. But If you can’t figure out how to use him it’s best to trade him for what you can get for him. I can promise you Josh McDaniels knows what to do with O.J Howard!

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Rating: +14. From 14 votes.
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Pete Wood

How is Arians not using him correctly? What should Arians be doing?

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Alldaway 2.0

Howard is used according to what he shows on tape. On tape he isn’t aggressive enough or fully utilizing his size like Olsen or HOF Gonzalez. Throw in mental lapses and the young man is struggling to be a consistent NFL average player.

Howard with his size and speed should be dominating Gronk style. But he plays very timid.

While I am glad Howard finished his first full NFL season he needs to step it up.

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Rating: +10. From 16 votes.
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Captain Sly

Howard has been used on most downs as a traditional TE along the line as an additional blocker. I would motion Howard out wide similar to Evin Ingram, Travis Kelcie, George Kittle forcing one on one coverage with slower LB’s…
OC has to be more creative when you have a player like Howard.
If Shawn Peyton can find ways to get Taysom Hill the ball surly Leftwich can find a way to get 1st rd pick OJ Howard the ball.

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Rating: +14. From 16 votes.
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bucballer

I’m on the other side. I believe O.J. is a talent who can play. He now knows what it takes to play in the NFL. See RoJo. This kid has been the man his whole life due to his freakish athletic ability. The NFL is an adjustment for some of these boys. Just the stamina of a 20 game season alone. They r all freakish athletes in the NFL! I think O.J. will get better this year whether it’s with the Bucs or another team. I hope it’s with the Bucs… but it just might be with another team should… Read more »

Like the Eddie Murphy song goes…. Party all the time party all the time, party all the time. Freeman liked being out partying it up and did not like working out. Playing college QB was easy for him. You cant get by with talent alone in the NFL especially the job of a QB. The position requires a workaholic. Freeman got a crazy contract and made $28,328,824. I heard he was a really cool guy if you spoke to him out and about. Its too bad, he showed great potential early on. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating+7-1 Rating: +6.… Read more »

bucballer

Heard he had a substantial habit… of this is unverified!

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Rating: +1. From 3 votes.
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bucballer

…of course this is not verified!

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fbickley

Mark, Really? No backup being talked about? I know you are a jameis promoter too, bu even if he comes back on the franchise tag (which would be way over market), if he were to throw a pick six on his first play or even series in any of the first 4 games, he should be benched for the long haul or Arians will lose the team on accountability

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scubog

My take on O.J. Howard is that, in spite of his physical prowess, he hasn’t yet become mentally focused on the game, his “want to” on the field doesn’t equal guys like Gronk, Kelce, Olsen and others, which has resulted in being an afterthought in the offensive game plan. This lack of the success, that he and we expected, has caused him to lose confidence. Perhaps he can get a fresh start this off-season and come to Training Camp singing, “I’ve Got a New Attitude”. I sure don’t want him to leave after buying his jersey. Blame me. It’s the… Read more »

fredster

I’d be fine with trading Howard if it’s a good deal and benefits us in another area of need too. I agree he seems to have exceptional talent, but he’s not focused for whatever reason. I won’t speculate on him personally, but we have seen stuff like this before and usually it’s maturity or some sort of addiction like ASJ. Again I’m not saying that’s the case with him just saying it’s been issue in past a lot with players under performing. I could be wrong but my take on Tannehill is you can take any starting NFL QB regardless… Read more »

fredster

Oh and for scenario 2 add having a FG kicker that can’t make anything for better part of 5 years….

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The Wall

When Howard did play, he played soft and timid. No question about his talent. We need to trade him for a draft pick- hopefully at least a third rounder while we can. If he blossoms later so be it. I don’t care how talented he is, we can’t have wide receivers that are tougher than our tight end.

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Benjamin

One thing we need to see Byron and Bruce do is use O.J. on more seam routes, Howard is not a twitchy fast guy, he is a straight line fast guy and he should be used more up the seam. I do not remember seeing him running a lot of seam routes. I honestly do not remember him being used really that much in the passing game. He is the better blocker out of the TE group but come on run this man up the seam a few times per game. I just do want to see him go to… Read more »