NFL free agency: Raiders sign TE O.J. Howard to replace Darren Waller

The Raiders' tight end replacement, O.J. Howard, caught only 10 passes in 2022. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)
New Raiders tight end O.J. Howard caught only 10 passes in 2022. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

The Las Vegas Raiders took a step to solidify their tight end situation by reportedly signing journeyman O.J. Howard, the team announced Monday. The terms of Howard's contract have not yet been reported.

Howard will likely be one of — if not the only — replacement for veteran tight end Darren Waller, whom Las Vegas traded to the New York Giants on March 14 for a third-round pick. Moving on from Waller saved the Raiders some salary cap space but at the cost of a perennial 100-target pass catcher. Waller averaged 99 receptions for 1,171 yards and six touchdowns in career-best performances from 2019-2020. Backup tight end Foster Moreau is also a free agent and may not return to Las Vegas.

While Howard is comparable in size — both he and Waller are 6-foot-6 and weigh more than 250 pounds — Howard hasn't been nearly as productive as Waller since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted him No. 19 in 2017. Howard caught just 10 passes in 13 games this past season for the Houston Texans after he spent the previous five years with the Buccaneers. He only managed 119 receptions for 1,737 yards and 15 touchdowns in 59 games for Tampa Bay — a 17-game season average of only 34 receptions, 500 yards and four touchdowns.

Right before inking Howard, the team also reportedly signed safety Jaquan Johnson, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Johnson started four games for the Buffalo Bills over the past two seasons.

O.J. Howard headshot
O.J. Howard
2022 - 2023 season

Raiders will look a lot different in 2023

Howard won't be the only new face in Las Vegas this season.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo signed a three-year, $67.5 million deal to reunite with Josh McDaniels, who coached him as the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator. The Raiders also signed former Patriots receiver Jakobi Meyers to a three-year, $33 million deal. The team did bring back running back Josh Jacobs on the franchise tag, though, and still has wide receivers Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow.

That offensive lineup is a stark change from the excitement the Raiders saw heading into the 2022 season with Adams, Waller, Renfrow, Jacobs and Derek Carr at the helm. That unit only managed a 6-11 record and finished third in the AFC West, but this group is objectively worse when you consider the swap of Howard and Meyers for Waller, who ranked third in receptions and yards and ninth in touchdowns among tight ends.

In a division with the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers and a retooled Denver Broncos under new head coach Sean Payton, it might be a hard climb for the Raiders this season even after the offensive changes they made.