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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Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard responds to Patriots trade rumors

Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard responds to Patriots trade rumors

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard's future has been in question with the NFL trade deadline looming, and the rumors linking him to the New England Patriots wasn't a shock to him.

The Patriots reportedly reached out to the Buccaneers to ask about a potential deal involving Howard, but Tampa Bay wasn't interested. 

Howard was asked Tuesday about the trade rumors involving him and the Patriots, giving him an opportunity to talk up his talents.

The Buccaneers selected Howard with the 19th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and despite catching 11 touchdown passes in his first two pro seasons, he has not made much of an impact in Tampa Bay's passing attack in 2019.

Howard has tallied 13 receptions for 176 yards and zero touchdowns on 18 targets this season. He's averaging only three targets per game, which is less than ideal for a tight end with impressive talent and size (6-foot-6 and 251 pounds). 

The Patriots reportedly acquired wide receiver Mohamed Sanu from the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for a second-round draft pick Tuesday, but they still have plenty of 2020 draft picks to use in other trades to address remaining roster weaknesses. One of those weaknesses is tight end, where two newcomers, Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson, suited up at the position for New England in Monday night's 33-0 road win over the New York Jets. Ryan Izzo (concussion) and Matt LaCosse (knee) both were ruled out of the Week 7 victory, creating concerns about the Patriots' depth at tight end. 

The trade deadline is Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 4 p.m. ET. 

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