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.
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).
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.