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OPINION: The Bears Should Make a Call For O.J. Howard

The Bears may be able to find an answer at the tight end position if they were to acquire O.J. Howard from the Buccaneers.
Photo: Mark Lomoglio/AP

Photo: Mark Lomoglio/AP

Can Rob Gronkowski be both the WWE 24/7 Champion and an NFL tight-end? Time will tell.

Yesterday, major news broke regarding New England Patriot star Rob Gronkowski reuniting with longtime friend and teammate Tom Brady. A trade was exercised sending Gronk, his $10 million contract, and a seventh-round pick in this year's draft to the Buccaneers for a 2020 fourth-round draft selection.

Why the Bucs May Market O.J. Howard or Cameron Brate

The addition of Gronkowski brings a third starting tight end into the mix on an already crowded Buccaneers' roster. Now that Gronkowski is more than likely to start, keeping both Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard does not make sense from a financial standpoint. A recent analysis using data from Over The Cap illustrates that the Bucs are now the second-largest spender at the tight end position of all teams with slightly over $20 million on the roster. The NFL average is $9.8 million.

Gronk's new contract is only part of the overall figure. The Buccaneers signed Cameron Brate to a contract extension in 2018 for $41 million with $18 million in guarantees. While the deal was restructured this past March, he still stands to make $6 million and $6.5 million in base salaries over the next two years.

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Why The Bears Should Make the Call

While the Bears attempted to patch their tight end dilemma with the signing of former Packer Jimmy Graham, he likely isn't the long-term solution. Graham is coming off one of his worst seasons to date, ending 2019 with 447 receiving yards and just three touchdowns. He also turned 33 this year and is on the last leg of his career. Given his lack of production while with the Packers, it's hard to believe he’ll do much for the Bears.

Enter O.J. Howard. The young University of Alabama star never truly realized his potential with the Buccaneers. He entered his first season under now-fired coach Dirk Koetter and played his second season under Bruce Arians, who has a history of under-utilizing tight-ends in his passing offense. Taking a look at Arians' tight end history, as visualized below, showcases that O.J. Howard’s 2019 season was the most productive by a tight end under his belt.

Tight end performance under Bruce Arians as a head coach (Cardinals, Buccaneers).Data: FFToday

Tight end performance under Bruce Arians as a head coach (Cardinals, Buccaneers).Data: FFToday

Data: ESPN

Data: ESPN

While Howard’s stats do not jump off the board, his potential stands out. His skillset was neither fully maximized nor utilized while playing in Tampa Bay. In 2017, he was the highest-rated tight end in the NFL Draft above David Njoku and Evan Engram. At the 2017 NFL Combine, Howard was the top tight end performer in the 40-yard dash (4.51), bench press (22 reps), and 3-cone drill (6.85). During the draft process, media outlets such as CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated also compared him to Jimmy Graham and Travis Kelce, respectively.

Additionally, Howard is a product of one of the best and most respected collegiate teams in Alabama, who happened to play in what is arguably the toughest conference in the SEC. Because he was a first-round draft pick, Howard has a fifth-year clause that the Bears could exercise should he work out. At just 25 years old, O.J. Howard is a capable blocker who can provide the vertical passing game that Matt Nagy would love to see.