Houston Texans must prioritize trading for O.J. Howard now

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard, who should be pursued by the Houston Texans (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard, who should be pursued by the Houston Texans (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) /

The Houston Texans should make acquiring O.J. Howard a priority after the Buccaneers re-united Rob Gronkowski with Tom Brady in Tampa. Why? Let’s look.

Following the Houston Texans shock DeAndre Hopkins deal with Arizona, Tom Brady’s move to Tampa Bay is the most significant move in the NFL off-season.  And things just got a lot more interesting when Tampa shipped a 2020 fourth-round pick to New England in return for Rob Gronkowski and a seventh-round pick in this year’s draft.

Overnight, O.J. Howard has become one of the top trade targets in the league as Thursday’s NFL Draft nears.

Howard, 25, is entering the final year on a four-year, $11 million contract worth just under $2 million in 2020 with an overall cap hit of $3.5 million.  He has a 5th-year option in 2021 and would become an unrestricted free agent in 2022.

Howard’s first three seasons in the league have been marked by injury problems, inconsistent quarterback play, an unfavorable scheme, and borderline criminal under-utilization for a player of his athletic caliber.

The tight end position has become more challenging for NFL teams to fill with elite talent as fewer and fewer college offenses use the position, at least in a traditional sense, as spreading the field and isolating favorable match-ups is the preferred method.  Tight ends came to full prominence during the play-action era perfected by the Bill Walsh 49ers in the 1980s.

Gronkowski was thought to be among the last in a dying breed, but Kansas City’s Travis Kelce now has emerged to take the baton as the top threat at the position in the league.  Kelce, like Gronk before him, possesses the rare combination of size and athletic ability to be a true difference-maker.

Freak of nature difference-maker

Howard’s athletic ability is in a similar echelon to that of Gronkowski and Kelce.  Howard, at

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6-foot-6, 251 pounds, possesses 4.51 speed in the 40-yard dash.  The Prattville, Ala. native also logged a 121-inch broad jump, 22 bench reps, and a 6.85-second three-cone time at the NFL Combine in 2017.

While the Houston Texans have a crowded tight end room currently with Jordan Akins, Darren Fells, Jordan Thomas and Kahale Warring, none have the game-breaking potential of Howard.  After shipping Hopkins and now essentially having a collection of No. 2 and No. 3 receivers with no true alpha, a top tier receiving tight end becomes a priority to open the field for Watson and give the receivers a chance at more favorable downfield match-ups.

Howard comes at a budget on the sort of “prove it” deal NFL franchises like to pounce on, and the consistent production of Deshaun Watson could be the perfect chemistry match which ignites his blaze of explosive and potentially league-leading production.

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Howard caught 34 balls for 459 yards — 13.5 yards per reception — along with one touchdown off 53 targets through 14 starts last season with the Bucs.