Buccaneers pick up TE O.J. Howard's fifth-year option

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have picked up the fifth-year option for tight end O.J. Howard, the team announced Wednesday. Howard's job security had come into question after a rocky 2019 season, his first in coach Bruce Arians' offense, and the team's trade for Rob Gronkowski earlier this month.

Howard, the 17th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, will make just over $6 million for the 2021 season. The deadline for NFL teams to exercise fifth-year options for 2017 draft picks is Tuesday.

Prior to Wednesday's announcement, the Bucs had listened to trade offers from other teams, including discussions with the Washington Redskins in February, a source told ESPN, but those talks fizzled. A source also told ESPN that the New England Patriots had expressed interest in Howard before the trade deadline last year.

Trade rumors heated up again when the Bucs acquired Gronkowski from the Patriots. A source told ESPN that the Bucs are now telling teams Howard is not available, and they're trying to give new quarterback Tom Brady as many weapons as he needs.

When asked about how Gronkowski's arrival impacts Howard and tight end Cameron Brate, Arians said, "I like both those guys, and we'll use three tight ends in our sets sometimes. Each and every one has a redeeming quality that helps us win. I think it's a great room. ... I don't think anyone has a better tight end room in the league. I love playing tight ends. I know I get this thing that we don't throw to them, but when I had Heath Miller, he went to the Pro Bowl. I think it's just going to upgrade everyone. Competition breeds success."

The Bucs picking up Howard's fifth-year option does not preclude them from still potentially moving him. Last offseason, the Bucs picked up the fifth-year option on cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft, but he was waived after Week 10. The Bucs did not have to pay any of that money to Hargreaves because the option was guaranteed for injury only.