In a move that was simultaneously unexpected and understandable in hindsight, the Buffalo Bills have released veteran tight end O.J. Howard as part of their roster cutdown. As of 9:30 AM Eastern, the Bills still have tight ends Dawson Knox, Quintin Morris, and Tommy Sweeney on their roster (plus Reggie Gilliam, who moonlights at the position).
In March, the Bills signed Howard to a one-year, $3.5 million contract. That contract guaranteed Howard $3.2 million of the money, in the form of a $1.25 million signing bonus and $1.95 million of fully guaranteed salary. To put that into context, Howard was guaranteed more money on his contract than wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, not to mention a slew of players on their rookie contracts like Knox, running back Devin Singletary, and wide receiver Gabriel Davis.
The idea, at the time, was that Howard could form a potent 1-2 punch in 12 personnel alongside Knox. The Bills would have multiple tight ends with the capability to block from the backfield or split out wide and catch some passes. That multiplicity and flexibility has been the trademark of the dynamic Bills offense of recent years. A former first-round pick, the 6’6” 251-lb Howard had averaged a 24/347/3 receiving slash in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive rotation next to Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate, and others during his career.
But in practice, Howard failed to distinguish himself against Buffalo’s other backup options. As the summer progressed, Morris and Sweeney both produced highlights in training camp and in preseason games, while Howard did not. The telltale sign that Howard wouldn’t be long for the roster was to see how often he was playing into the fourth quarter of the team’s preseason games, alongside third- and fourth-string players.
The Bills will end up paying for Howard’s guaranteed money on their salary cap, since they weren’t able to find a trading partner. They’ll save $300,000 in the form of his not-guaranteed salary that won’t be paid out. Due to a procedural trick, which added an extra “void year” to his contract, $625,000 of his cap hit will be deferred to next year.