The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have picked up the fifth-year option of tight end O.J. Howard for the 2021 season. Howard, the team’s first-round pick in 2017, is playing in the final year of his rookie deal and set to earn a base salary of $1,977,903 and will have a salary cap charge of $3,530,182 due to the proration of his $6,208,984 signing bonus, according to OverTheCap.com.
There was speculation that Howard could be traded on or before the 2020 NFL Draft due to the team trading with New England for Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski, but that never materialized and Tampa Bay is expected to keep Howard on the roster this season – and in 2021 due to the fifth-year option.
Howard’s fifth-year option salary in 2021 will be $6.2 million, which is still a relative bargain for a starting tight end in the NFL. Chargers tight end Hunter Henry is the highest-paid tight end in the league, averaging $10.6 million per year, followed by Browns tight end Austin Hooper, who averages $10.5 million per year.
In his three years in Tampa Bay, Howard has caught 94 passes for 1,456 yards (15.5 avg.) and 12 touchdowns. As a rookie, Howard caught 26 passes for 432 yards (16.6 avg.) and six touchdowns, followed by a season in which he caught 34 passes for 565 yards (16.6 avg.) and five scores, despite missing six games due to injury.
Howard’s first season in Bruce Arians’ offense didn’t go smoothly as he dropped four passes, including a few that turned into interceptions. Howard also fumbled twice and saw his number of touchdown catches fall to just one. The Alabama product hauled in just 34 catches for 459 yards (13.5) last year and saw his Pro Football Focus grade plummet from 89.1 in 2018 to 54.7 in 2019.
Both Arians and Howard are hoping that Howard can rebound in 2020 while catching passes from new quarterback Tom Brady, who loves throwing to the tight end position. Brady had Gronkowski to throw to in New England for nine seasons (2010-2018) where the two helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls.
Just because the Bucs have picked up Howard’s option doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily be in Tampa Bay in 2021. The team could still trade him if it so chooses, or eventually even release him. Last year, former first-round cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III had his fifth-year option picked up by the team for 2020 but he was released at mid-season and finished the 2019 campaign with the Houston Texans.