Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Bucs beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.

Sikkema’s Stat of the Week

As seems to be the case with any year following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football franchise, this season already feels like a roller coaster. In just six games, this team has already experienced quite the highs and lows. At its best, there was the 55-40 victory out in Los Angeles against the Rams, and the clutch end-of-game heroic defensive stand against the Panthers on national television. At its worst there was the six-turnover performance that took place in London in their last game, a 37-26 loss to Carolina, and before that a loss at home to a rookie quarterback in Daniel Jones in his first start.

Through it all, the Bucs currently sit at 2-4. Though spirits may be a bit down right now due to recency bias of their last game, the Bucs are still very much in range of a turn around this season, and mathematically that also includes a potential playoff berth.

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

But it is going to take something special to spark a much-needed turnaround. That could come in a few ways. The team could get healthier, as its offensive line has been beaten up with unfortunate injuries already. This team is also poised to get pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul back from his unfortunate off-the-field injury this offseason where he injured his neck in a car accident. And there are also outside whispers of this team making a move at the upcoming trade deadline.

Traditionally, the Bucs have not been an active team under general manager Jason Licht at the trade deadline. Licht hasn’t made a move to acquire a player during deadline week since 2016, and the only moves he has made since 2014 were trading away cornerback Johnthan Banks in 2016 and trading away safety Mark Barron in 2014.

Here in 2019, it appears once again that this could be a quiet deadline for the Buccaneers. With their record, knowing how many home games they have left, and the expectation of Pierre-Paul’s return, there’s a good chance their roster remains the same going into the back half of the season.

But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been whispers of moves in the circles of the NFL rumor groups. The loudest of them is surrounding third-year tight end O.J. Howard.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the New England Patriots are at least one team that has inquired about Howard’s services.

“The Patriots’ decision to bring Benjamin Watson back after Matt LaCosse went to IR only further illustrates the team’s problems at Rob Gronkowski’s old spot. Eight days until the trade deadline. New England already asked, and was told no on, Buccaneers tight end OJ Howard. I’d expect they’ll be turning over rocks this week at the position.”

The talks of Howard being a potential trade pieces from the Buccaneers started when the team hired Bruce Arians as head coach last January. The Buccaneers spent the 19th overall pick on Howard in the 2017 NFL Draft. His numbers a during his first two seasons weren’t eye-popping with the amount of catches and targets, but they were impactful with YPC averages and touchdown ratios. However, throughout Arians’ long NFL tenure, he has never been a coach to really utilize the tight end position.

As this narrative was brought up during the offseason and even into training camp, Arians quickly hushed the crowd by saying he’s never seen any tight end like Howard – that his combination of size, speed and strength were truly rare. We thought that would mean a heavier emphasis on the position (player) than Arians’ history would suggest. But so far in 2019, the skeptics have been right. In this, the third year of Howard’s career, he is averaging an entire catch less per game, his lowest YPC average, and he has yet to catch a touchdown (he caught six in each of the last two seasons, without yet playing a full 16-game slate).

TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Roger McQueen/PR

Arians may say he likes what the team has in Howard, but he’s using Howard as a receiver less than previous head coach Dirk Koetter did, and that was even with Howard as a rookie. Right now, Howard is averaging three targets per game, which is only good for 30th in the NFL among all tight ends. Howard’s emphasis in the receiving game is less than guys like T.J. Hockenson, Will Dissly, James O’Shaughnessy and Dawson Knox. Though his YPC average is lower than his previous seasons, Howard is still sixth in the NFL in that category for tight ends who have caught at least 10 passes. However, over the last two years of tight ends who caught at least 20 passes, Howard was No. 1 in the league in the YPC category. So sixth is still a down year.

Long story short, the more you use this guy, the more he seems to reward you. So why aren’t the Bucs using him?

I am sure the Patriots are not the only team that has inquired about Howard – and by the way, if the Patriots reach out to you about a player, chances are he’s pretty good and you should think twice about not only trading him but even looking at how you’re using him.

Every player has their price. I believe that, even to completely unrealistic levels of trade offers. I am not sure what the Buccaneers value level for Howard is, but I do not think it matches his use right now.

Howard is third on the team in targets with 18 behind receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who each have 55. However, wide receiver Breshad Perriman would likely have more than Howard had Perriman not gotten hurt four weeks ago.

I don’t think the Bucs should trade Howard. I think they should instead use him more. Let’s get into some of Howard’s film and explain why on the next page.

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Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: [email protected]

45 COMMENTS

  1. They should move Brate instead. OJ will be on his rookie contract for a few more years, maybe they will figure out how to use him. Meanwhile Brate’s $7M is being wasted on a 2nd string TE in an offense that doesn’t use them.

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    • I agree. I was opposed to drafting OJH, not because I didn’t think he was good but because we have so many needs particularly in the trenches and we had a pretty good TE in Brate. But since Licht did draft Howard, he should’ve been trying to wheel and deal Brate for something we need instead of holding onto him until his salary is so large, it’ll be difficult to move him. Now we are stuck with Cam Brate because any team that has an interest will wait til we release him and negotiate a new salary rather than trade for him.

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      • Think Licht had visions of a Gronk/Hernandez tandem without realizing you need an OC that runs a system conducive to 2-TE sets and route combinations. At this point all you have is great/expensive depth if an injury occurs.

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        • Licht hired Bruce Arians to save his own @$$ more than it was the right choice for the team. I have nothing but respect for Coach Arians but I will be very surprised if he sees the end of his contract given his age and his lack of desire to rebuild. And given the state of this team in 2018 and it’s underwater salary cap, the Organization needs a rebuilder more than it does a reloader.

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      • Agree on the OJH draft decision. I wanted Cam Robinson in that spot. Would have pushed D Smith to his natural RT position prior to the monster contract.

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      • Agree. I loved the Howard pick and felt Bucs stole a real talent. Guy is an outlier. We kept Brate because he has been Winston’s safety blanket for check downs and has good hands in red zone. We should have shopped Brate when the market was favorable.

        Another example of how the wrong pick for QB can set your team back a half a decade.

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        • Yup keeping brate had nothing to do with scoring the most touchdowns during that 2 year span in the league. But you’ll say brate threw it to himself. Is there really anything you all dont blame jameis for?

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          • I don’t expect any of us to memorize each other’s comment history (except for Bob), but my support for Jameis has been pretty level throughout his time here. He’s had his chances and I don’t see him as a franchise QB.

            He’s not the entire scapegoat of the team any more than he is their savior.

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      • Koetter’s offense often makes use of 2 TE sets. That’s why they kept Brate after drafting Howard.

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    • thought the same thing a few days ago. If someone will pay us enough to trade him.

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  2. Patriots only trade at a discount that benefits them. They always offer less than the person was drafted for, even if they are a good performer like OJ Howard. I guessed they offered a third round pick for him, and the Bucs declined (rightly). Here is what they did yesterday, and you will see, traded for a tight end two rounds lower than drafted – which is about the most they ever pay for in any trade.

    On Monday, New England acquired tight end Eric Saubert from the Falcons, according to NFL Network, in exchange for a seventh-round conditional pick. A former Drake product, Saubert was selected in the fifth round, 174th overall, in the 2017 NFL Draft.

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    • CORRECTION: Patriots only trade at a discount that benefits them WHEN IT’S THE BUCS. They gave a Second Rounder for Mohammad Sanu. Patriots got Aqib Talib from us for a Seventh Rounder. Yeah, I know he had some trouble with the law but given his youth at the time, he had more upside than Sanu who is on the wrong side of 30. Fast forward to today and Talib has been to more SBs than the Bucs organization. But what are you going to do? Chump Teams make Chump Decisions when it comes to personnel.

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      • Actually, the Bucs traded Talib and a 7t round pick for a 4th round pick. I see your point though, they could have easily got a 2nd round pick for him. William Gholston, became the pick with the Pats 4th round pick they sent for Talib.

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        • Yeah, you’re right about the 7th for a 4th rounder but still too little for the kind of player Talib was/is.

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  3. No. The fact that a top notch organization like the Patriots want him, proves he is worth holding on to.

    Besides I’ll say it again: if we are trading for Draft Picks, with Jason Licht as our GM, what’s the point? I don’t trust him to make the most of any pick(s) we acquired in a trade anyway. In fact I would bet he would screw it up.

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  4. Use him more, don’t trade him! Let’s say we trade O.J. Brate becomes TE #1. He re-injures his surgically repaired hip. Now we have to use untested TE Hudson or shop around or draft a TE when we just got rid of a talented one. U just don’t trade young talent like O.J. because he has a bad game or two. By using these metrics Jameis would have been gone a long time ago…I’m just saying!

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  5. Absolutely No on trading OJ Howard. He was projected to go top 10 in first round. Just because this coaching staff had not utilized him does not mean we should sacrifice the draft capital we have in him and end up watching him be a stud on another roster. Someone needs to get their head out of their ass and start targeting this guy in the game plan. I won’t mention any names but his initials are Byron Leftwich!

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    • “His initials are Byron Leftwich”

      LMAO

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  6. Absolutely not. They must get him the ball more. He has the potential to be a top 5, possibly top overall TE in the league.

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  7. Don’t trade Howard or Brate.
    Here’s a crazy idea. Here me out.
    Watch old tape of the Patriots and study how to build a juggernaut two tight end offense.
    We could actually try using two of the top ten tight ends in the league.
    Crazy, I know.

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  8. Licht drafted him and now hes not being used. Another pick that should have been a top tier offensive lineman. He slipped down to our spot so Licht had to grab him. Licht has no enduring philosophy. It seems to vary from year to year. That’s why this team has no identity. How many picks have we wasted that could have been offensive lineman?

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    • I have had my share of issues with Bucs draft picks. Don’t get me started.
      But, Howard was a great pick, a steal, at nineteen. I think Bucs had to snag him.
      Now, not using him is another story.

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      • Yeah, if you are going to take OJH, deal Brate for something you need. Winston just had his worst game with 5 picks which is also the first game we had where we played without Cappa or Dot. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

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      • Licht drafted Howard because he was a steal at 19.  He and his staff had already failed with Seferian-Jenkins  who had a serious problem with alcohol.  They failed in due diligence somehow.  Howard was drafted on behalf of  Koetter who was known to like two TE sets.

        Arains inherited Howard and Brate but indicated that he was happy to have both.  Let us see how they are used going forward after the bye.  

        It has been reported that the coaches spent some time in self evaluation. The players were given a whole week to rest.  These were obviously BA’s decisions.
        ___________________
        Go Bucs!!!

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  9. Slow news day coming off the bye week. This is just an absurd question, but since the Pats made the offer I guess we need to talk about it.

    The obvious answer is no unless someone is stupid enough to offer the Sun, the Stars and the Moon. Since Licht works for Tampa, there’s no other GM that would be foolish enough to make that offer, so my guess is Howard will stay put.

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  10. I wouldn’t even consider trading Howard unless the offer blows you away. Must include a 1st round pick and another pick in rounds 2 or 3. He is the most complete and talented tight end on the roster, with a very high ceiling. The coaching staff just has to be smart and utilize his talents appropriately. Design plays for him. Create favorable matchups for him. Get him the football out of multiple formations. As pointed out by ProFootballTalk.com, he’s young and under contract for at least the next two years on his rookie deal. As noted in a post above, Cameron Brate is making $7 million this season in a very limited role. He would be the TE to try to move, although I don’t know if any other club would pick up his contract.

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    • Yeah, if you can get more for him than you put in to getting him, then you make the deal. However, knowing the Pats approach to dealing with the Bucs, Belichek probably offered Licht their best water boy, some Legal Seafood Clam Chowder and a pick… in the Massachusetts State Lottery for OJ. I’m surprised Licht didn’t jump on the offer.

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  11. Awesome job on the Article Trevor, and I couldn’t agree more. Utilize and make a priority of the 1st round TE that has a ceiling as high as it goes potentially for a TE. Key mismatch in every game.

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  12. Definitely don’t trade O.J., he’s a beast. What’s odd is that Jameis always had really good chemistry with his tight ends dating back to his FSU days. So for him not to rely on O.J. heavily is kinda weird. Would probably relieve alot of pressure of him since Howard can win the seam so easily.

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  13. I understand the criticism of Licht but Howard was projected top 10 pick and considered steal at 19. Now if there was O lineman or D lineman graded that high I’m sure he would have taken him. You don’t draft for need unless you want to suck. That said he has not done good job of improving talent on this O line. D line is close to being very good imo.

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  14. And no I wouldn’t trade Howard.

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  15. I was joking folks – no we shouldn’t trade Howard:

    1) we would never recoup the value we spent to acquire him. NE’s #1 is like 32nd overall – we used the 19th on him just 3 drafts ago.

    2) he’s young….we may well be about to rebuild the franchise – the cornerstones of that rebuilding are going to be our good young guys like Howard, Evans, Godwin, Marpet, Vea, Barrett, RoJo…that’s a very good core of 7 (maybe a few more) players to rebuild with.

    3) our GM is not the guy you would trust to make a good trade. He has less experience at this than any other GM of his tenure. His ability to identify talent, and draft pick value, is suspect at best.

    4) he’s cheap – we need cheap guys if we’re going to keep Barrett.

    5) the Pats are desperate…you don’t trade away your prized possession when somebody desperate comes calling…you say, “hey have I got a great deal for you – how about Cam Brate (he has more TDs than any other TE over the last x seasons) in exchange for your 1st round pick”….once they get desperate enough, they’ll be back, and maybe you’ll settle on two 2nd rounders or something..

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  16. They way I see it, you don’t get rid of star players to accommodate an OC that rather limit his offenses options instead of expanding them.

    Trade Leftwich for a better OC who runs a better offensive scheme. An OC that can use all the weapons in his possession…AND WIN GAMES CONSISTENTLY!

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  17. IF you just gotta trade Howard? Nothing less than a 1st rounder..PERIOD. Not a 2nd or third rder. I’d trade Jason Licht before I’d trade anybody on this team..including backups!

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  18. If the plan is to keep Winston, then trade Howard for a #1 in 2020 and a # 2 in 2021. Howard is not being utilized correctly with Winston cast Winston is always looking four main Lee Evans and Goodwin.
    The plan is not to keep Winston, then keep Howard for the next quarterback who will use him as was planned as a valuable target.

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    • @horse you’re crazy if you think the Patriots are going to give up two #1’s for OJH. They don’t overpay for players.

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      • Well, they won’t be getting OJH then; it’s their need, not ours. Patriots drafting position is at the bottom. We owe those cheater’s nothing.

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  19. The Bucs should trade with San Francisco, straight up, for General Managers. Not that the 49ers owners would ever be that stupid… but it would be fantastic for the Bucs!

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    • @naplesfan if Licht were half as good at being a competent GM as he is at saving his job, the Bucs would be unstoppable.

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  20. To think, Lynch was one of our own. Instead we got Meathead, Licht.

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  21. I agree, we should not be thinking of trading Howard. Instead, the OC should be thinking of ways to utilize him. If someone was to offer a 1st, I’d say think about it, but if not we need to use him like the 1st round pick he is

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  22. Gee whiz, you think Hoard could have at leasst put a little chiip on that DE coming in who almost killed Winston. When he released there was no one there.
    As for that soft zone against San Fran, that was an inteception waiting to happen. Howard should have worked his way back to Winston once he saw him under duress.
    Poor Dotson, he really does have trouble blocking out in space whereas Cappa was out there head hunting on that first screen pass shown.

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  23. Trade Brate or Mike Evans

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  24. I totally agree with keeping OJ, dude is a beast but having a down year so far, it happens.

    Don’t expect to see a lot of use of OJ till Cappa and Dot are back and healthy, they have been using him more as a blocker to sure that right side for more max protect, and after seeing their backups how could you blame them?

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    • @wish-in-one-hand Re: OJH blocking.

      Exactly. Which is one of the reasons why he was drafted and touted as being better than Brate.

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