Cameron Brate was signed to a much deserved six-year contract with the potential to net $41-million in total and at it’s worst, is an $18-million investment in guarantees. Brate deserving to get paid after being an undrafted free agent isn’t an argument, he earned that money. The question is should it have been the Buccaneers that ponied up and paid him considering the team invested the 19th selection in the 2017 NFL Draft on O.J. Howard who by all accounts was expected to be an immediate upgrade as a blocker and eventually should be a top pass attack option as well given his size and athleticism.
Taking a quick look into Howard’s rookie year will shed some light on the reality of the situation. Howard played 26 more snaps, despite missing two games, than Brate. Before an injury derailed the last two-plus games of Howard’s season he was playing 14-percent more of the snaps than Brate. The two tied it up in touchdown receptions but Brate was clearly the more targeted receiver between the two in totality. The story the numbers elude to is one many fans already knew, Howard is a far superior blocker than Cam Brate and in turn was used more often because of it. In the short term, Brate being re-signed should only help Howard and his development as it means he will still play second fiddle to Brate for the time being in the passing game while providing an impact in the run game. One question that may be answered this season however is this... what will happen when Howard shows he has grown enough as a pass catcher to warrant some of Brate’s looks?
Howard showed enough last year to warrant some praise for his athletic prowess in the open field. Howard had no issues going up and grabbing passes as well as catching on the move. Separation wasn’t much of an issue for Howard either which then leads to the real issue, Howard’s route running ability. Brate returning should be a good thing because aside from actual coaches, a player who runs routes out of the tight end position like Brate is a perfect role model for Howard to take after. Another year following Brate around and building up Howard’s repertoire should be great for him. The two tight end sets that the Buccaneers should continue to use, arguably more so this year than a year ago at that, will help spread the field and give Jameis options at all levels and corners of the field. Howard at his size and speed is a massive weapon up the seems. The emergence of wide receiver Chris Godwin at the end of last season only adds to the equation and Ronald Jones in the backfield should kick the teams offense into overdrive. For Howard, even with Brate coming back, this should mean his usage and importance to the offense will only continue to go up.
As the 2018 season approaches one thing should be clear about this Buccaneers offense, there’s finally depth. Howard and Brate at the tight end position and the flexibility those two give Jameis and this staff should be one that strikes fear into opposing defensive coordinators. The re-signing of Brate will be a good one for Howard, who will absolutely continue to lead the position in snaps in 2018 and quite possibly taking even more of a lions share of the snaps.