The Patriots can't afford to waste their draft picks this year.
So with the news that O.J. Howard, a tight end who had two good seasons after being chosen in the first round in 2017, is on the trade block, the Patriots should have a lot of thinking and deliberating to do.
Former Patriots staffer/current everything-he-says-might-have-some-sort-of-Patriots-angle-er Mike Lombardi said Wednesday that the Bucs are "trying to trade" Howard and that they only held onto him at the trade deadline last season because their asking price of a second-round pick was not met.
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So if they couldn't get a second rounder then, it stands to reason they won't now. The Patriots have three late thirds, so perhaps if another team offers a third, it will be higher than New England's. Let's put the price at a third (No. 87) and the late fourth the Pats have from the Bears (No. 125).
On one hand, it could be a coup. With one first-round pick and no second, the idea of filling your biggest need without touching a pick in either round is splendid. This isn't a strong class at tight end, and the Patriots are currently in a position where it would appear moving down and drafting the best one in the class (Notre Dame's Cole Kmet) might be their best play.
That all assumes Howard gives you something, though. By the end in Tampa, he was not. That opens the discussion of whether that was on him, Bruce Arians or Jameis Winston.
As a rookie, Howard had 26 catches for 432 yards and six touchdowns over four games. He looked to be on the path to stardom with his second season, catching 34 passes for 565 yards and five touchdowns in just 10 games before Week 11 foot/ankle injuries ended his season. He was on pace for over 900 yards and eight touchdowns as a second-year player.
Then the Bucs hired Bruce Arians and Howard fell off the map.
The Bucs just stopped throwing to him. Howard ended up catching only 34 passes over 14 games, which tied what he did in 10 games the year prior. His receiving yards (459) and touchdowns (just one) were also down from his injury-shortened second season.
And if you're thinking, "well, maybe it's an Arians thing," you've got ammunition. He clearly didn't trust Howard.
In Week 11 against the Saints, with Howard having caught just 17 passes on the season, he gave away a first-quarter target for a comically horrible interception. He did not see another pass the rest of the game.
"It's hard to say," Arians said later when asked about Howard's season. "He's a talented, talented guy, but it's not showing up on Sundays."
The assumption here was that Tom Brady would be chomping at the bit to have Howard and Cameron Brate for tight ends after having nothing at the position last season in New England. It would seem he's taking Arians' word for it that they're better off without Howard.
So if you're the Patriots, are you giving up something like a third and a fourth for two years of a first-round talent? I would.
I think it's worth the risk, but there is no questioning that it is a risk.