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.

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

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.

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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Alldaway 2.0

Congratulations to Howard. The team has shown they believe in OJ. Now, OJ needs to stay focused and keep grinding hard and good things will come!

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awwdembucs

I agree Alldaway. I think bringing Gronk here OJ can learn from a savay vet.

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Erik Jager

Time to trade Cameron Brate for a seventh round pick.

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Sneedy16

Gronk hasn’t played in a year so I see Cameron playing more in the regular season to start off.

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skeller65

This year’s CBA makes that fifth year guaranteed, so not the same as the Hargreaves situation.

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jjtixs

Hope this is incentive for him, want to stay.and lets hope he can be a #1 tight end!

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BUC-ASS-BOB

I like O J he now has a QB that can find him and throw better to him, they will be happy they have OJ this year.

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bucballer

Howard is/can be a beast. Prototypical TE. I think Brady will bring out the best in OJ. At least I hope so. I’m glad he was not traded and is still a Buc. Things will be different for him this year. This is the year that the expectations meet his potential. At least I hope so. I think he gets it this year and the learning curve slows down for him so that his natural ability starts to take over and he balls out for our Bucs! I like this move! Think it was a no brainer. Sometimes the best… Read more »

Captain Sly

Team did the right thing here. OJ has way more value than a late round draft pick. When all is said and done teams will be kicking themselves because they didn’t make a stronger offer to acquire him.

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Sheldon

I 100% agree. I’ve been trying to explain to lots of fans that his upside and potential is on a massive scale. He’s shown glimps of this in his first 2 seasons, just had a bad deal with the new playbook this past season. This was best for the Bucs.

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geno711

OK, I think i am one of the few guys that look at snap counts. For instance I love that JPP and Suh historically take some of the highest snap counts in the league, year in and year out for guys along the defensive line. That is so under rated in my opinion by our fan base. So that being said: O.J. Howard missed 2 games last year but in the other 14 games played 80 percent of the snaps. His percentage snap count was way up from the year before where he took about 65% of the snaps. Comparatively,… Read more »

Captain Sly

Those stats are meaningless to the conversation because they’re keeping him! Pretty sure they see how they will use him going forward so need to breakout stats to change anyone’s mind.

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Alldaway 2.0

Howard’s blocking last season wasn’t as good as 2018. But compared to Brate I think he passed Brate last season. We have to remember that injuries have slowed down his development and 2019 was the first season he played through a full season as a pro. People are looking at Howards 2018 numbers and comparing his 2019 numbers to conclude he regressed. Statistically he did take a step back but in 2019 he took a step forward by being able to finish a season and having a high snap count. This will payoff big in 2020 and beyond IMO as… Read more »

Naplesfan

Worthy of mention is that OJ Howard’s snap count last season was nearly twice that of Cam Brate. When people keep saying that BA didn’t “use” Howard last season, they’re only talking about pass targets. A good tight end is at least as valuable for his blocking as for his receiving. OJ is a better blocker than Brate, hence he got “used” nearly twice as much. As great as it is to have the Gronk with us, he hasn’t played a full season of games for many years. There is a good chance he won’t be starting a full season… Read more »

Bucsfan1983

Good news. He’ll learn lots from Gronk. We are going to need Howard post Gronk, I’m glad they didn’t trade him.

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drdneast

Another underachieving first round pick from Licht. So aggravating

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We should have reached for Dalvin Cook 3 years ago, who fell to the second rd that year. Cook has had bigger impact so far. While we trade for Gronk & draft 2 RB’s. Jason can’t get out of his own way, a lot like most of his top picks. He should not be allowed to the draft party until the 4th rd.

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Value production over potential. Or physique.

He’s on a cap friendly two year deal so if we’re going to trade him and get anything back for Licht’s umpteenth mistake it’s now or never.

Hopefully the option pickup is a prelude to just such a trade. Probably only get a low 3rd or a 4th given his mediocre contribution – especially for a first rounder for goodness sakes – but just like dumping Winston better that than hoping he gets it together all of a sudden. Licht 0-2 drafting TEs.

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The Bucs could have jumped back in the 2nd and grabbed Cook after the Howard pick, but they didn’t. While I too wish the Bucs would have grabbed Cook instead of OJ, the Bucs did the right thing. Howard was projected as a top 10 player and a perfect fit for Koetter’s system. When it’s all said and done, Cook may only play one more year while OJ may be just starting to tear it up. We do not know what the future holds. But the chances are far greater that OJ plays longer than Cook. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb… Read more »

matador

Just starting to tear it up? Dude, as a 1st round pick OJH had been a dud. Not sure what longevity gives us when it’s paired with mediocrity. We need to move him for a pick or player where we have holes or need quality depth.

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SappAttack

I am so perplexed by the TE situation

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pinkstob

SMH…

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seat26

Fantastic. Now we have a half dozen TE’s that could start on most teams and we don’t use them other than to block. But thank goodness they are under contract…

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scubog

I never believed O.J. Howard was on the trading block any more than any other player. Like many, I was thrilled when the Bucs drafted a player who was so uniquely gifted. Initially, he looked like a future star. Then last season he looked apathetic, didn’t appear to put forth the degree of effort of the more noted TE’s and then seemed to lose his confidence. I think we all need to remember that these youngsters often have fragile psyches. With the arrival of Brady and Gronk, O.J. can go two ways this season. He can either be intimidated and… Read more »

Joelmieses

I am glad they kept him. Hopefully he has a better season with Brady Throwing to him.

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AlbJack65

I’m still not sold on Howard. I think he was a bit over rated coming out of college simply because he played for Alabama. So far, he has not lived up to his 1st round pick status and I honestly don’t think he will in the future. Last year was replete with missed blocks, dropped balls and fumbles. Locking him in to $6 million next year seems a little strange.

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dbenn2012

Costs the Bucs nothing unless they keep in the roster next year – also before we start looking at trading Brate (our best end-zone option unless Gronk returns to form), let’s see first if there is even a season. Not to mention, the longer the delay in getting people in for mini-camps, workouts, pre-season etc., it would be very surprising not to see a large spike in injuries as facilities are closed. Every coach will tell you that working out on your own (assuming you have access to personal trainers, proper facilities, etc., in no way will get you in… Read more »

magoobee

Imagine having Evans, Gronk, Howard, Brate & Johnson at the goal line. Someone has to be 1 on 1 vs a small DB.

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AlbJack65

The Bucs receiving corps is without a doubt a “murderer’s row” of talented players. That lineup will always force mismatches of skill level because each team only has so many high quality defenders, especially LB’s forced into pass coverage in certain situations. But if you are assuming a “small DB” can’t handle the job based on size alone, then I believe a 5’10” 185 pound Ronde Barber is waiting to speak with you on line #1.

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