The Tampa Bay Buccaneers gained tight end depth Thursday, July 28 with the signing of pro football veteran Jonathan “Bug” Howard.
Howard, 27, arrives at training camp fresh from leading the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars this spring and summer. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound tight end caught 30 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games for the Stars, who came up short in the July 3 USFL championship game. his agent, Lamont-Smithannounced the signing of the Bucs on Thursday.
Before playing in the USFL, Howard hopped through the NFL from 2017-2021 with Indianapolis, Cleveland, Carolina, Denver, Jacksonville and Buffalo. He played college football in North Carolina from 2013 to 2016, where he caught 146 passes for 2,048 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Howard recently demonstrated his ability to make an impact on the field in the USFL, a league made up of many players with NFL experience. He makes big catches on offense and big blocks on special teams. He became the 23rd USFL player to join an NFL team since the USFL season ended.
He also showed playful skills in the Spring League in 2020, a developmental league for aspiring professional football players. He previously played for the Atlanta Legends in the 2019 Alliance of American Football professional leagues, where he had 17 catches for 220 yards in eight games.
Howard, nicknamed “Bug” by his mother, grew up in Rochelle, Georgia and in 2014 amassed the second-best single season in Georgia prep history. Notable recent NFL receivers and Georgia State tight ends include Tyreek Hill, Breshad Perriman, Michael Gallup and Jared Cook.
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Howard joined the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2017, but he has never played a regular season game. His NFL experience consists of training camps and practice groups among his six wards.
He spent most of the 2017 season on the Browns practice team and 2020 also on the Broncos practice team on the Jaguars practice team in 2019. His stints with the Colts, Panthers and Bills ended during camp or preseason.
Tampa Bay created a need for more tight end depth following the waiver of Codey McElroy on Tuesday, July 26. It made room on the list when wide receiver Julio Jones was signed, but the Bucs reduce the team’s tight end numbers to five with the McElroy injury waiver. McElroy has a foot injury and will have surgery this week according to ESPN’s Jenna Laine.
To make room for Howard on the list, the Bucs dropped Sterling Hofricther according to Greg Auman of The Athletic. The Bucs essentially decided the punt job by drafting Georgia’s Jake Camarda, Auman noted.
The Bucs faced a major transition this year with Rob Gronkowski’s retirement, leaving Cameron Brate as the only tight end on the team with significant experience. Veteran free agent Kyle Rudolph then signed with the Bucs on July 20 to help ease the loss. The Bucs previously added Cade Otton and Ko Kieft through the April draft and signed undrafted free agents Ben Beise and JJ Howland in June.
Howard will intensify competition among the Bucs’ tight ends at training camp, and not all seven will make it to the Finals. Last season, the Bucs carried five tight ends on the active roster.