Between 2010 and 2018, the tight end position was vital to the New England Patriots’ offensive success. The offseason retirement of future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski, however, changed the position and its usage within the offense drastically as a look at the stat sheet shows: of the 223 passes attempted by the Patriots’ quarterbacks over the first six games of the season, only 15 were thrown in the direction of tight ends.
While the wide receivers and running backs have stepped up to fill the void created by Gronkowski’s departure, the passing game production of Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse played only a marginal role in New England’s aerial attack. The team recently added two more players with Izzo and LaCosse recovering from injuries — Benjamin Watson was re-signed, Eric Tomlinson added as a free agent — but the overall talent level can still be improved upon.
Enter the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ O.J. Howard, who appears to be on the Patriots’ radar as a potential trade target: according to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the team recently asked about the 24-year-old who has caught just 13 passes for 176 yards this season despite playing 81% of his team’s offensive snaps. However, the Buccaneers were reportedly unwilling to engage in negotiations and New England “was told no” in response to its inquiry.
Howard would certainly be an intriguing option to be added to the Patriots’ offense ahead of the NFL’s trade deadline on October 29. A first-round draft pick in 2017, he is still on his rookie contract and had some solid production over his first two seasons in the league. This year, however, the 6-foot-6 tight end ranks just fourth in targets and receptions on his team as he has seen increased action as a blocker.
That all being said, the Patriots’ track record of trades and other transactions would suggest that a move for Howard is unlikely at this point: the team usually keeps a low profile as far as the trade market is concerned, as there are usually no reports such as this one are coming out ahead of potential acquisitions. Things change quickly in the NFL, but New England bringing in Howard should probably be filed under “pipe dreams.”