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Report: Bucs exercise 5th year option on TE O.J. Howard

The Bucs acquired Rob Gronkowski this offseason, but they seem to still have plans for O.J. Howard.

O.J. Howard of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks on from the sideline during the third quarter of a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on December 01, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are picking up the fifth year option for tight end O.J. Howard, according to Pewter Report. The Bucs spent the 19th overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft on Howard, and he is entering the fourth year of his rookie deal. The option year is guaranteed for injury immediately, and becomes guaranteed for skill and cap when the new league year starts in 2021.

This is a surprising decision to say the least. Howard was a regular red zone threat his first two seasons, and was making progress in spite of a 2018 injury. However, he took a big step back in 2019 when Bruce Arians took over. Arians has not been a big user of tight ends, but that did not make Howard’s season any less disappointing. He caught 34 passes for 459 yards and one touchdown in his third season.

This offseason, the Bucs traded for formerly retired tight end Rob Gronkowski a month after signing Tom Brady to a free agent contract. Gronk will likely move to the top of the depth chart, and now Howard will be competing with Cameron Brate for snaps. The exercising of the option suggests the Bucs think there is still some value to be gained — although it is also possible they did it because it provides a little more value in an eventual trade.

Whatever the case, Howard’s fantasy value is limited for the time being until we get a better handle on how he fits into the Bucs plans for 2020.