Sikkema’s Stat of the Week

Is two really better than one? Well, not always.

Having two homework assignments due at once, for example. That’s not great. Having two sets of bills to pay, also not ideal. How about having two superiors you’re trying to impress or keep up with at work? Nobody likes that.

But, then there’s the flip side where two of something can be pretty great. For example, two burrito bowls at Chipotle instead of one. Or being able to buy two pairs of shoes for the price of one. Or how about having two Top 20 tight ends on the same NFL team?

As much as I would enjoy writing about two different Chipotle bowls, the subject of this week’s Cover 3 pertains to that last one and the luxury the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have with tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard.

Brate had a career year in 2016. In that season, he saw his most games started (10), most targets (81), most catches (57), most receiving yards (660) and most receiving touchdowns (eight). Brate was a key instrument in the development of second year of quarterback Jameis Winston. He proved to be a reliable target that Winston could go to when teams really keyed in on wide receiver Mike Evans and was an any-down-and-distance player.

After finishing the season 9-7, the Buccaneers wanted to beef up their offense even more. They thought they were solidified in enough areas and they went into the offseason looking to diversify their options at wide receiver, bring in an extra mismatch player at tight end and shore up the depth at their running back position. The first thing they did was sign wide receiver DeSean Jackson. The third part they did by drafting Jeremy McNichols. And the middle part they accomplished by getting a player many thought was the steal of draft night, Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who was last year’s first round pick in Tampa Bay.

Howard and Brate, in theory, was a match made in heaven for head coach Dirk Koetter’s vertical offense. Two capable tight ends on the field at the same time would give them the option to stay versatile out of any formation and could disguise what they were trying to do, either run or pass. Two viable options instead of one is great, in theory, but you still have to figure out how to use both knowing that an increase in options doesn’t mean an increase of offensive plays run or balls the quarterback has to throw – it becomes a matter of efficiency.

In 2017, the Buccaneer ran out of 2-TE and 3-TE sets 383 out of 1,088 offensive plays. That was 35 percent of their offense. They were in 2-TE sets for about 29 percent of the time and 3-TE sets at around four percent. The league average for 2-TE sets was right around 25 percent, so the Buccaneers clearly emphasized their two tight ends more than the rest of the NFL. But, their three to four percent use of three tight ends was actually below league average. That tells me that this team emphasized their tight ends more as passing options and less as run help.

Bucs TEs O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs TEs O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

O.J. Howard’s efficiency was through the roof for a rookie with with 20th most receiving yards (432), 7th most receiving touchdowns (6) and highest yards-per-catch average (16.6) among all NFL tight ends with at least 25 catches. Basically what that’s saying is that when they threw Howard the ball good things happened. Even Brate’s numbers were a little bit better in 2017 as he averaged a higher yards-per-catch ratio than he did in 2016 and finished with just nine less catches and just two less touchdowns while running next to Howard.

Now, you’re probably thinking that next I’m going to tell you that the rest of the offense couldn’t keep up, but that’s not true, either. As the team’s No. 1 wide receiver, though he didn’t get as many yards or catches, Evans actually averaged a better yards-per-catch ratio in 2017. And of the second wide receiver position, Jackson increased that category for the team, too. Throw in the fact that Winston had the highest completion percentage, highest yards-per-attempt average, lowest interception ratio and highest quarterback ratings of his career in 2017 and you’ll see that adding Howard to the mix as a clear emphasis at the percentage of plays they ran 2-TE sets out of meant that whatever they wanted to do in the passing game was working.

They just couldn’t score enough touchdowns.

Brate is a restricted free agent this offseason, meaning the Bucs could potentially lose him, but it is more difficult than it would be if he was unrestricted. As a restricted free agent, Tampa Bay will have the chance to match any contract offered to him. Over the last two season, only two tight ends in the NFL have caught more touchdown passes than Brate: Seattle’s Jimmy Graham and Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph.

Scoring touchdowns is important – like, really important – something the Buccaneers learned the hard way as Tampa Bay had the No. 4 passing offense in the NFL, yet had the No. 18 scoring offense in the NFL. Brate will be coveted in free agency, even with that restricted tag on him, around the league because when you have guys who have a knack for scoring six, you keep them around. But, the Buccaneers are in a unique situation. They have a guy they know is efficient in Brate, but also have their stud draft pick from 2017, Howard, who, in theory, will only get better and better after having as much end zone success as Bratehad  in 2017. Brate received more targets and thus more catches, but will Howard be able to do that on his own soon? We know Howard is the superior blocker, so will it be worth top tight end money to keep Brate if in two years he’s just a TE-2 behind an All-Pro-caliber player like Howard could become?

If you ask me, yes, Brate is still worth it – if you sign him correctly. The numbers of the process don’t lie; the Buccaneers are better with him and Howard on the team. The more mouths to feed theory doesn’t hold water so long as Winston keeps his and everyone else’s ego at bay and just makes the right throws. Brate will likely get a new deal worth between $6.5 million to $7.5 million per year, and will include most of the guaranteed money up front in the first two years. That’s what director of football administration Mike Greenberg wisely does.

What will likely happen is that the Buccaneers will time when Brate’s guaranteed money ends and when Howard’s rookie contract ends. That way when it comes time for Howard to sign a new deal, if he really has become the clear-cut focal point of both the passing offense and the blocking offense from the tight end group, Tampa Bay will be able to move on from Brate with ease while opening up more money to retain Howard.

For now, there is no player on the team who has as guaranteed of a connection with Winston like Brate does, and that is not worth losing. Brate should be extended by this team, but it has to be strategically. I think such a plan above will line up with a budding star in Howard.

On the next page we’ll dive deep into Howard’s rookie season and view just how quickly he might be overtaking Brate as the team’s top tight end option in the passing game, and view all the possibilities of what he can and perhaps cannot be for this Bucs team.


  1. Excellent breakdown. Ever since that ludicrous PFF ranking came out on Howard, I’ve been curious as to how his blocking played out. Good to see some ups and downs laid out more clearly. I hope 2018 shows more of Howard/Brate on mesh concepts. They’re just too big and athletic to lose those battles very often if they run unders or outs. Basically use them more to attack the middle of the field.

    To your first question, we should absolutely pay Brate if the price is right. If we’re gonna burn $6 and $7M on busts like Doug/Baker, we sure as hell should pay producers like Brate. Jameis LOVES the guy and their production just can’t be magically recreated. The way you structured the next two years would align perfectly for the Bucs to either move on from Brate or keep him based on how Howard progresses. Again, it will depend on how the negotiations play out, but I’d really like Cam back.

    Howard should stay at or around 250, imo. The way Dirk wants to use him, he’ll need that extra speed that he might lose at 260. He can still be very effective in run blocking at 250, even if he’ll lose the occasional battle. His technique should only improve this offseason, so that might negate some losses against DE’s. He’s clearly the future if he continues to refine his route running. Very promising start.

  2. I love BOTH of our TE’s. I personally was very impressed with Howard’s rookie season. I believe he will improve every season, and will be a huge asset to this team moving forward. My vote is to extend Brate. I feel he’s earned that. Jameis loves him, and they have legit chemistry. I’d really hate to see him go.. Only way I wouldn’t be be livid is if he’s involved in a blockbuster trade to land a stud edge rusher. As far as being a restricted free agent, I would think he’d be tendered at least a second rounder. Another #2 sounds great, but how many rookies can match his production?

  3. First, great article. Trevor is a valuable asset to PR and Buccaneer fans, no doubt.
    I’d keep Brate. Can you just imagine the two TE set with a legitimate running game? Now THAT’s a play action that would work IMO.
    Bucs have to address RB this winter and do it well.

    Trevor, thanks and a hat tip, well done.

  4. Brate is absolutely worth a new contract. A lot of good pieces are in place on offense, particularly at the skill positions (I agree completely with the post above that the running back position needs an overhaul). Keep these guys together as much as possible and let them grow together, in the same offense. The Glazers retained Coach Koetter and his staff in the name of continuity, perhaps realizing that changing coaching staffs and schemes every two or three years wasn’t working. Same philosophy should apply here. It would be nice if he and the Bucs work out a new contract prior to the start of the new league year to avoid any possibility of having to match a contract offer from another club. That is up to both parties.

    I would be very cautions about asking Howard to put on any more muscle. As Mr. Sikkema correctly points out, you don’t want to lose any of that speed and acceleration that makes him such a difficult matchup in the passing game. Refining some technique would be a better approach. And with regards to route running: so, so important. That is what separates the good receivers and tight ends from the great ones. Those little details about how you run your routes: release from the line of scrimmage, how and when you make your cuts, hitting your marks, selling fakes…those things cannot be emphasized enough. Attention to detail!

  5. Brate is worth extending, but. The money we spend on him isn’t going to make our pass rush better, our O line better, and as we’ve seen this past year didn’t help our scoring average. With Godwin, D Jax, Evans, Howard, Humphries, Bobo Wilson, Marino, don’t we have enough options in the passing game? I would try and trade Brate for draft capital, or players that will help fix our biggest problem, the D line, lack of good corners, and guard. We used the 19th pick in the first round, right, or wrong on a very talented T.E.. We also have another good prospect in Auclair. Both him, and Howard won’t get the touches they would with Brate coming back. This team has to many voids in other areas of need. Sometimes less is more.

  6. Yes they should absolutely keep brate and it would be worth every penny. He has played very well and his connection with Winston is great. Pay the man. Would like Howard to stay are his current weight. His speed is his best weapon and would hate for him to loose some of it. With a better run game and those 2 TE sets out play action game will be impressive.

  7. Brate should absolutely be extended. He is a great player, has great chemistry with Jameis, and he is home grown. He is exactly what you want from a player, and coaching, perspective. Brate and Howard aren’t impacting each other, they play differently.

    Letting Brate go would be a HUGE mistake.

    • Exactly. Brate got hurt vs New Orleans in the 3rd & we ended up throwing twice to Brandon Myers in the end zone late in the 4th quarter. And we all remember how lethargic the offense was vs CAR the next week without a viable TE threat. Auclair is unproven. We have enough money to pay Brate, while O.J. & Auclair develop.

  8. I am a Brate guy all the way. If someone offers him a big Contract, Match it and if the other team wants him enough, Bucs can always trade him. When you have a guy like Howard, We have the luxury of doing that, just let him get away for nothing.

  9. The Patriots traded both their back up Q.B.’s this year. What would’ve happened if Brady got hurt? Garropolo being very talented, and a player they invested a lot of time on. At the time Belichick said you have to give up something good to get something good. The Pats lost Gronk against the Jags, but were able to over come the loss. One player who made a great play in that game was Dorsett who they got by trading one of their back up Q.B.’s. The Bucs are devoid of talent across their D line, giving up a good player like Brate could help fix a need. I guess you all would rather have a team of tight ends rather then a more balanced team that can actually compete for championships.

  10. Great write up as usual, Trevor. When we drafted OJ, I was super excited and was sure we would see 2-TE at least 50% of the time. Then during the season it seemed like we barely utilized it, and when we did it was not very effective. Now seeing that we had them both on the field only 35% of the time, I wonder what the hell we are doing out there. Brate is one of our two best pass catchers. OJ has so much potential as both a receiver and blocker. Why the hell aren’t we getting our best players out there? My plan: trade DJax, get a dynamic RB (trade, FA, draft, just do it!), and play Evans, Godwin, Brate, Howard, RB on the majority of plays. This will open up a much better play action game, increase our efficiency in the red zone, etc etc. Koetter needs to get creative with it, mixing the way they line up, the routes, and so forth. Keep the defenses guessing. Our offense was so predictable and one-dimensional last year. Get an RB and keep our best guys out there. I hated that the OJ Alabama play worked perfectly the two times we ran it, yet we never ran anything even similar again all season. If a play works use it! If it stops working, then on to the next one!

    • Honey Bear, not sure if any other team would pay Jackson that kind of money, plus give up a draft pick. His numbers weren’t very good this season with less speed this coming season. I believe most defensive backs were covering him pretty good. Just my opinion.

    • It’s interesting. Surfer and Honey both make good poInto. I’ll try to add one.

      If you look at the $ spent on FA and draft picks in aggregate, in general when Licht spends $ he wastes it. So yes it would be great to get another high performer at a position of need, but given Licht’s demonstrated lack of ability to spend money and picks wisely, we’d be taking a huge risk letting a genuinely talented player walk in hopes of signing another one. It’s not Brate’s fault Koetter doesn’t know what to do with two good TEs. It’s an example of why we need a different coach, one who is not in over his head like K&L both are. Here’s to 2019…

  11. There’s no doubt in my mind that Brate should be resigned. His production and chemistry with Jameis are too much to give up. There will be plenty of cap space once we trim the fat with Baker and Martin.

    Howard has been impressive as a rookie and will continue to get better. The 2 TE set has worked well even without a run game. Once the RB position has been addressed…which should be this off season…the set will work extremely well with play action.

    I’m looking forward to finally being right about this being “our year.” A big part of that will hinge on how we address RB and DE this offseason.

  12. Brate needs to be a must resign, him and Howard are a deadly combo for a defense to cover when they are both on the field plus having two good red zone and seam threats at TE is going to really help this offense out.

    Keep Howard between 250-260. I do not thing gaining 10 pounds will really hinder his explosiveness or acceleration as a receiving threat an the extra 10 pounds will help when blocking in line like he does.

    I think there should be more crossing routes either having a wr and te on one side cross or having the te’s cross and we should use more play action seam routes if our run game improves.