The Bucs made a splash Monday, acquiring
WWE 24/7 Champion tight end Rob Gronkowski from the New England Patriots. Gronkowski will come out of retirement to reunite with new Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady, and the tight end will push another player down the depth chart.
O.J. Howard started all 14 games he played in 2019 and would be Gronkowski's backup this season. If the Buccaneers decided to trade Howard, the 49ers would appear to be a fit based upon their reported offseason interest. San Francisco has been linked to Austin Hooper and Jordan Reed in free agency, as well as New York Giants tight end Evan Engram via trade.
If the 49ers are looking for a No. 2 tight end behind All-Pro George Kittle, they could do a lot worse than Howard. He caught just 34 passes for 463 yards and scored one touchdown in 14 games in 2019, but that came a year after recording 34 receptions, 565 yards and five touchdowns in only 10 games. The talent is there, Howard just needs to stay on the field.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Monday that the Bucs don't have a Howard trade in place, but Tampa Bay's tight-end room is a little crowded. Gronkowski, Howard and Cameron Brate make just over $17 million against the salary cap in 2020, according to Over The Cap, as each player falls in the top 15 of the Bucs' highest 2020 cap numbers.
The 49ers have an apparent need, but there are some hurdles in the way of a potential trade.
For one thing, Howard is entering the fourth -- and potentially final -- year of his rookie contract. Howard could be retained on a fifth-year option. NFL Media's Gil Brandt projected back in December that option could be worth $6 million, which would make Howard the NFL's highest-paid backup tight end. Kittle needs an extension, too, reducing San Francisco's potential salary-cap space.
The 49ers probably don't have the necessary draft picks to acquire Howard, either, whether they were to extend him or not. San Francisco doesn't own picks in the 2020 NFL Draft's second, third and fourth rounds, and Tampa Bay probably could get more than the Nos. 157 or 177 overall picks.
Perhaps the 49ers and Buccaneers could work out a deal centered on Howard for running back Matt Breida and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, who are the odd men out at their respective positions on San Francisco's depth chart.
If that's the case, the 49ers can thank Gronkowski for coming out of retirement.
After Bucs' Rob Gronkowski trade, could 49ers be fit for O.J. Howard? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area