When the Buffalo Bills signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard back in March, many people saw the potential. As a former first-round pick, he had put up a great deal of quality tape from his college days. He’s done some impressive thing as a pro too… when he was actually on the field. Still, he’s been underwhelming over the course of this offseason and, though he’s made some plays here or there, he finds himself on the roster bubble.
Signing O.J. Howard
Truly, the fans expected more. Don’t get us wrong, the team knew what they were getting when they brought him on board, but it was a risk. They kept their fingers crossed that we would see the player who had such an exciting start to his career in 2017, but to no avail. Howard never truly looked like he recovered after his string of injuries, forcing him to miss 24 games over his first four seasons.
Finally healthy in 2021, he simply wasn’t what Tampa expected. On his rookie contract’s fifth-year option, he put up only 135 yards on 14 receptions for one touchdown. That season was a big reason why we we able to score him for a lowly $3.5M contract. Coming with a $2.875M cap hit, we thought he could be part of a fearsome duo with Dawson Knox. With two start-able tight ends, we could run effective 12, 22, or 32-personnel groupings.
The ability to run said groupings could have provided a great outlet for the offense in poor weather, goal line, or clock management situations. As for Howard himself, his skillset as a receiver was above average for his position. We expected see him diversify this offense, and do it well.
His Offseason So Far
Then camp started. All was quiet, much too quiet for a Super Bowl contending team. When we did hear about O.J. Howard, it was either a single highlight or a general consensus from observers that he was one of the less interesting things going on. He struggled early, and didn’t do anything to separate himself from the pack.
“Howard has not been quick in and out of his breaks, which could hamper his ability to deceive the defender and separate while running routes…”Joe Buscaglia, The Athletic
“…O.J. Howard continues to struggle at Bills training camp. Howard mistimed his jump on one play and has failed to make any significant plays…”Ryan Talbot, UPstatenewyork.com
By the time the first preseason game rolled around, Howard was already losing favour. Against the Colts, the starters were benched and O.J. played nearly the entire game. Not only did he stay out there, he was rolling with the lowest end of the Buffalo Bills roster by the end. Still, he was in there.
In 2021, the Buffalo Bills carried two tight ends on the 53-man roster: Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney. This year, both incumbents have had good offseasons. The duo could quite comfortably run it back for 2022, leaving O.J. Howard on the outs. Former UDFA Quintin Morris also has everyone talking, and Howard is finding himself forgotten about. Even the team’s fullback, Reggie Gilliam, can play tight end, and he just received a team-friendly extension.
The Buffalo Bills’ Options
There are only three things to be done with a player like O.J. Howard. Cut him, trade him, or keep him. Each has it’s upsides and downsides, so let’s get into it.
Cutting O.J. Howard leaves the Buffalo Bills with $3.2M in dead cap. That’s a hard sell. The only way to justify that cut is if he’s been so ineffective in camp that we can’t possibly keep him over someone else. It would mark a combination of success from Sweeney or Morris alongside absurd, complete ineptitude from Howard that we simply haven’t seen yet.
This is a favourable option to some. Unfortunately, for a veteran first-round tight end, O.J. Howard doesn’t have much of a trade market. The Buffalo Bills traded Cody Ford, a backup guard, to the Arizona Cardinals for a fifth-round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, but they may have a hard time getting that level of compensation again. Their best bet is to find a team that desperately needs to take a swing on a long-term answer and a has an extra late-round draft pick to shed. Few suitors would emerge, if any. After all, he’ll be back on the market next season if they’re really interested.
The final option is also the easiest. For all of the negative remarks we’ve heard throughout this offseason, including some in this article, O.J. Howard is still a roster-able tight end. Not only that, he’s had elite flashes and is about as healthy as he’s been since his rookie season. His track record is significantly better than the previous TE2, Tommy Sweeney, and he’s not expected to get many snaps as a receiver anyway. Mostly, he’d be on the roster to block in the passing game, where he excels. A giant of a man, he at least has the tools McDermott wants to use, even if he can’t put it all on the table right now.
As far as predictions go, Howard is far from a tough one. A single injury to Dawson Knox could force this offense to field him significantly. There’s no other tight end on this roster who can fill that kind of hole. We’re paying him whether we cut him or not, as a trade is highly unlikely at this juncture, so we may as well use him since we don’t have a superior talent beneath him.
If the Buffalo Bills plan to feature an effective power run game though Aaron Kromer’s fresh offensive line, O.J. Howard can help out in both the pass and run. He may be a healthy scratch some days, but he’ll be on this roster on cutdown day.
Featured Image: Jeffery T. Barnes/AP Photo