O.J. Howard may have been called a "steal" when he was drafted 19th overall, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers now have the paperwork to prove it's legit.
And Howard has his first NFL contract, which he signed early Monday afternoon. The first of six players chosen by Tampa Bay in the 2017 NFL draft in April, Howard is also the first member of his Buccaneer draft class to get his rookie contract done. That's a memorable occasion for any NFL newcomer, and for Howard it was important enough to fly several family members, including his mother, Lamesa Parker-Howard, into town. Lamesa came to One Buccaneer Place to witness the actual signing of the document in the very room where the decision was made to draft Howard, 25 days earlier.
Photos of Howard during the Bucs' rookie mini-camp practices.
The Buccaneers still need to sign second-round safety Justin Evans, third-round wide receiver Chris Godwin, third-round linebacker Kendell Beckwith, fifth-round running back Jeremy McNichols and seventh-round defensive tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu. That shouldn't be difficult to do. As evidenced by Howard's quick deal-making and a number of other first-round picks around the league already inking contracts, the process of signing draftees has become far simpler since the new CBA in 2011 introduced a rookie salary cap.
As is the case with all first-round picks under the current CBA guidelines, Howard received a four-year deal with a team option for a fifth season. That option must be exercised between the player's third and fourth NFL campaigns. The Buccaneers recently picked up the fifth-year option on Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans, their first-round pick in 2014.
Howard is expected to join Evans in a potent Buccaneer offense that has added a significant amount of firepower this offseason. Tampa Bay also signed explosive wide receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency while adding Godwin and McNichols in the middle rounds of the draft. Tight end Cameron Brate and wide receiver Adam Humphries, both of whom topped 50 catches last season, also return, giving third-year quarterback Jameis Winston a multitude of targets. Still just 23, Winston has already thrown for 8,132 yards and 50 touchdowns in two NFL seasons.
Howard was considered the top tight end prospect in the draft and a potential top-10 pick before he slipped to #19, a rather fortuitous development for the Buccaneers. The team selected a tight end in the first round for the first time in its 42-year history, believing Howard to be a true "Y" tight end who can stay on the field for all three downs and excel both in blocking and pass-catching.
At 6-6 and 251 pounds and the speed to produce a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, Howard has the size and speed to be a mismatch down the seams. The Bucs plan to combine him with Brate, who tied for the NFL lead among tight ends with eight touchdowns last year, to add mystery to their favored two-TE sets. Howard will also help take attention away from Evans, who caught 96 passes and scored 12 touchdowns last year, and open space for Jackson, who led the NFL with 17.7 yards per catch in 2016.