Patriots

Patriots

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers apparently are playing hardball with their top tight end.

The Buccaneers are "not expected" to trade O.J. Howard before Tuesday's NFL trade deadline, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport said on NFL Network about three hours before the 4 p.m. ET deadline.

Rapoport left the door open for a deal, though, noting the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks "could be interested" in Howard "if that changes."

The Bucs previously had insisted they weren't trading Howard, a talented pass-catcher out of Alabama who caught 11 touchdown passes during his first two seasons in Tampa Bay.

But a report surfaced Monday that the 2-5 club would consider trading him for a "substantial offer," a sign they're willing to deal the 24-year-old as long as the price is right.

Whether the Patriots would pay Tampa's asking price remains to be seen, but they're certainly in the market for a tight end, as Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson are their only two healthy tight ends entering Week 9.

UPDATE (2:20 p.m. ET): The Bucs still aren't budging on Howard, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero.

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