Rochester Democrat and Chronicle USA TODAY NETWORK
Every year when the Buffalo Bills trim their training camp roster down to the regular-season limit of 53, there’s at least one cut that catches you by the surprise.
That wasn’t the case this year because the only name who would qualify for that – tight end O.J. Howard – wasn’t really a surprise at all.
The other players released were:
- Quarterback Matt Barkley
- Running backs Raheem Blackshear and Duke Johnson h Wide receivers Isaiah Hodgins and Tanner Gentry
- Offensive linemen Greg Mancz, Luke Tenuta and Alec Anderson h Defensive linemen Mike Love, Brandin Bryant, Kingsley Jonathan, Prince Emili, and C.J. Brewer
- Linebacker Joe Giles-Harris h Defensive backs Nick McCloud and Ja’Marcus Ingram
Other Buffalo Bills roster adjustments
The Bills also announced that cornerback Tre’Davious White (knee) and offensive lineman Ike Boettger (Achilles) will start the year on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list meaning they will miss at least the first four games.
Linebacker Andre Smith is on the suspended list because of his performance enhancing drugs violation. None of those players count against the 53 until they are activated from those lists. And defensive lineman Eli Ankou was released with an injury settlement.
So no, none of the moves the Bills announced Aug. 30 were all that shocking. General manager Brandon Beane had said heading into the preseason finale at Carolina that probably 50 of the 53 spots had already been decided, and pretty much every reporter who published a 53man roster projection nailed almost every player.
Why OJ Howard was cut from Buffalo Bills roster
The writing was on the wall for Howard’s release as far back as the first week of camp at St. John Fisher University when Howard was barely noticeable in practice, and backups Tommy Sweeney and Quintin Morris were making plays when they had the opportunities.
And when the preseason games started, once again, outside of the touchdown catch he made in the second quarter of the second game against Denver, Howard did almost nothing.
Even more damning, though, is that he was still in all three games in the fourth quarter at a time when the field is usually filled with rookies and young veterans who are ultimately headed for the waiver wire, not a sixth-year veteran who signed a one-year, nearly fully guaranteed $3.5 million free agent contract.
This is the second year in a row the Bills have signed a veteran tight end to be Dawson Knox’s primary backup who did not make the team. Last year it was Jacob Hollister who was cut and eventually signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars where he played seven games and caught nine passes for 55 yards.
Back on July 27, so very early in camp, offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey said of Howard, “I love O.J., I’m glad he’s here, and I think he’s going to continue to grow in our offense and the more comfortable he gets the faster he’s going to play and the more physical he’s going to play and I’m excited with the direction he’s going.”
However, Howard never really moved the needle after that and just Aug. 29, Howard told the Buffalo News that he was struggling to learn the Bills’ offense, particularly the terminology, and it was forcing him to play slower than he would have liked.
“It was a lot of learning experiences for me,” Howard said. “Being in a new offense, just being able to be put in a lot of different situations, a lot of positions, just learning different calls and picking up on alerts – that was good for me. I think as training camp went on, I got a chance to play faster and kind of learn the terminology a lot better. So, it was a lot of growing pains for me, but I’d rather them happen right now than later on during the season.”
The 2019 first-round draft pick of the Buccaneers was a contributor for his first three seasons (94 catches for 1,456 yards and 12 TDs in 38 games). But he suffered an Achilles injury early in 2020 which cost him the rest of that season, one where the Bucs went on to win the Super Bowl with Tom Brady at quarterback and his old pal, Rob Gronkowski, as the starting tight end.
Last year, Howard was behind both Gronkowski and Cameron Braite most of the season and caught only 14 passes for 135 yards and one touchdown.
When the Bills signed him in March, they thought his superior size — 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds — and athleticism would play well in two-tight end formations because he has been a good blocker in the past. Plus, he could be a legitimate red zone option.
There was even talk that he could be the lone tight end in certain situations so that the Bills could take some of the workload off Knox who played more than 75% of the offensive snaps last season. Instead, Sweeney and Morris will be getting that opportunity.
“It’s kind of stressful, you know,” Sweeney said Tuesday of waiting out the final roster decisions as a player firmly on the bubble. “Everybody around the league, a lot of jobs being won and lost, it’s completely out of your hands. You just hope that the last couple weeks, you’ve put your best stuff out there, and hopefully that lets you sleep at night, regardless of win or lose, figuratively.”
The 2019 seventh-round draft pick, who missed all of 2020 due to COVID and a resulting case of myocarditis, was asked if he thought his days were numbered when the Bills signed Howard, but he said he just tried to take care of his own business and let the chips fall where they may.
“Yeah, that’s all you can do,” he said. “There is always going to be competition in this league. It’s the best of the best so whoever they bring in, it’s going to be a good player. Just put it in the back of the mind and whether somebody is there or not, you’ve just got to go push forward.”
Buffalo Bills 53-man roster analysis
You must remember, this initial 53man roster is not set in stone because once the Bills scour the waiver wire in the coming days, there could be players they want to bring in at the expense of some who survived the first cut.
Here’s how it looks at this writing:
- Quarterback (2): Josh Allen, Case Keenum.
- Running back (4): Devin Singletary, James Cook, Zack Moss, Taiwan Jones.
- Wide receiver (7): Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, Jamison Crowder, Isaiah McKenzie, Khalil Shakir, Jake Kumerow, Marquez Stevenson.
- Tight end (4): Dawson Knox, Quintin Morris, Tommy Sweeney, Reggie Gilliam.
- Offensive tackle (4): Dion Dawkins, Spencer Brown, Tommy Doyle, David Quessenberry.
- Interior offensive line (5): Mitch Morse, Rodger Saffold, Ryan Bates, Greg Van Roten, Bobby Hart.
- Edge rusher (5): Von Miller, Greg Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa, Boogie Basham, Shaq Lawson.
- Defensive tackle (4): Ed Oliver, Da-Quan Jones, Tim Settle, Jordan Phillips.
- Linebacker (6): Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Tyrel Dodson, Tyler Matakevich, Terrel Bernard, Baylon Spector.
- Cornerback (6): Dane Jackson, Kaiir Elam, Taron Johnson, Siran Neal, Christian Benford, Cam Lewis.
- Safety (4): Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Jaquan Johnson, Damar Hamlin.
- Kicking specialists (2): Tyler Bass, Reid Ferguson.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at maiorana@ gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.To subscribe to Sal’s new twice-a-week newsletter, Bills Blast, please follow this link: https://profile. democratandchronicle.com/newsletters/ bills-blast