O.J. Howard

NFL Rumors: Bucs not expected to trade O.J. Howard; Patriots still interested

NFL Rumors: Bucs not expected to trade O.J. Howard; Patriots still interested

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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NFL rumors: Here's 'the only way' Bucs would consider O.J. Howard trade

NFL rumors: Here's 'the only way' Bucs would consider O.J. Howard trade

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are unlikely to reach the NFL playoffs and must decide whether to become sellers before Tuesday's NFL trade deadline at 4 p.m. ET.

The most interesting trade candidate on the Bucs is tight end O.J. Howard. The former University of Alabama star hauled in 11 touchdown receptions over his first two pro seasons, but he has not been targeted enough in 2019. He's tallied 13 receptions for 176 yards and zero touchdowns on just 18 targets through six games this season.

What would it take to acquire Howard from the Buccaneers? ESPN's Jenna Laine provided the latest intel Monday:

Could the New England Patriots be interested in acquiring Howard before the trade deadline? Well, they reportedly already reached out to the Bucs earlier this season to talk about a possible Howard trade, but Tampa Bay wasn't interested. Howard himself seemed to enjoy the rumors involving he and the Patriots when asked about them last week:

The Patriots would definitely benefit from additional tight end depth. Benjamin Watson started at the position Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, and even though he's played well since returning to New England, he's 38 years old and not the same kind of receiving threat as Howard. Behind Watson is Eric Tomlinson, who's more of a blocking tight end. Matt LaCosse (knee injury) and Ryan Izzo (concussion) were inactive for both of the Patriots' last two games.

The Patriots acquired wide receiver Mohamed Sanu in a trade with the Atlanta Falcons last week, but they still have plenty of draft pick capital to use in other trades before the deadline. Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer wrote Monday "that the market for tight ends has been fairly hot."

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NFL Rumors: Patriots interested in trading for these pass catchers before trade deadline

NFL Rumors: Patriots interested in trading for these pass catchers before trade deadline

The Patriots are taking on the Browns at 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon. Be sure to tune in to NBC Sports Boston for Patriots Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m. ET, then Postgame Live immediately after the Week 8 matchup.

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The NFL trade deadline is rapidly approaching and the New England Patriots may not be done wheeling and dealing.

This past week, the team acquired receiver Mohamed Sanu from the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for a second-round pick to bolster their receiving corps. Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, they shipped pass rusher Michael Bennett to the Dallas Cowboys for a late-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Moving forward, the team may still be looking to strengthen their core as they try to make it to the Super Bowl for a fourth consecutive year. And it seems that the team could be looking to add another pass catcher to their offense and they may have a particular interest in adding a tight end.

Right now, the Patriots have four tight ends on their roster, but only the 37-year-old Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson are healthy. If Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse aren't close to returning, the team could look to find some extra depth or even an upgrade to one of the team's weakest positions. It's also worth noting that Izzo is surprisingly generating some trade buzz, so that remains something to keep an eye on. 

According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the Patriots are interested in Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard. Both would offer more upside than what the Patriots currently have and the 24-year-old former first-round pick Howard could really thrive in the Patriots' offense.

That said, it's unclear whether or not the Bengals or Bucs would be willing to give up their tight ends. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport is reporting that it would take at least a third-round pick for the Bengals to move on from Eifert, and it's fair to assume that the price for Howard -- who is five years younger than Eifert and has a less extensive injury history than Eifert -- would be higher.

The Patriots may also be among those interested in Falcons tight end Austin Hooper, a talented pass catcher on a team going nowhere. However, Rapoport is reporting that the Falcons are unlikely to trade him, so he would likely cost a king's ransom if the Patriots do end up targeting him. Perhaps if the Falcons do change course, dealing with a Patriots team that gave them an early pick for Sanu would appeal to them.

As for the wide receiver position, La Canfora is reporting that the Patriots could "take a run at" Bengals receiver A.J. Green before the deadline. The Bengals don't seem to want to trade Green, but perhaps if the Patriots offer up a first-round pick or more, that could entice them to give him up.

No matter what happens, it's worth noting that the Patriots are exploring ways to add to their stable of pass catchers before Tuesday's deadline. The only question now is about whether or not they'll find a willing trade partner in the next two days.

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