Dec 21, 2019; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard (80) reacts during the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs TE O.J. Howard to be ready for offseason program

Jan 3, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) warms up before a game against the Tennessee Titans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard will be ready to participate in the team’s offseason program, coach Bruce Arians announced Wednesday.

Howard saw his season come to an abrupt end after sustaining a ruptured Achilles tendon in the Buccaneers’ 38-31 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 4.

The 26-year-old Howard had 11 receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns in four games prior to the injury. He finished his season on injured reserve, marking the third time that he has done so since being selected by Tampa Bay with the 19th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

“He’s really close,” Arians said of Howard. “He’s not running on the grass yet but he’s really close. The last time I checked it was 85 percent body weight running in ‘AlterG’ (treadmill) and (he) looks fantastic. I don’t see any setbacks. If and when we can get together in this offseason program, he’ll be ready to go.”

Howard has reeled in 105 receptions for 1,602 yards and 14 touchdowns in 42 career games.

“What a huge addition to have him back because he was having a great year,” Arians said. “I think, again, the sky’s the limit for what he can do in this offense.”

Tight end Rob Gronkowski’s 45 receptions last season were tied for third on the team. His 623 yards receiving were also third on the Bucs, while his seven touchdowns were even with Chris Godwin for second behind Mike Evans.

–Field Level Media

Feb 7, 2021; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians hoists the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs’ Bruce Arians shows off Super Bowl tattoo

Coach Bruce Arians is the latest member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to celebrate the team’s Super Bowl victory with a tattoo.

Arians, in fact, took to social media on Tuesday to show that he made good on his promise.

“I’m a man of my word- ‘when we win the Super Bowl, I will get a tattoo’ well I got mine and I love it!! #SBLV #superbowlLVchamps,” the 68-year-old Arians posted on Twitter.

The tattoo on Arians’ upper back features the Super Bowl LV logo with the Lombardi trophy. That rests atop the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ logo, with the numbers 31 and 9 featured. The Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs by that final score on Feb. 7.

Arians claims he told tight ends coach Rick Christophel that he would get the ink should the Buccaneers win the title.

Arians is not alone about receiving some ink following the title win.

Rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and wide receiver Mike Evans reportedly also commemorated the Super Bowl win with tattoos.

–Field Level Media

Feb 7, 2021; Tampa, FL, USA;  Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin (14) reaches for the ball during the third quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs stop here: Bruce Arians hopes to keep free agents

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians saw his team overcome the odds to win the second Super Bowl trophy in franchise history.

Now comes what might be even the more difficult part for the Bucs — retaining their stars in a bid to repeat as champion.

Wide receiver Chris Godwin, who made a base salary of $2.1 million in 2020, is one of the several standouts slated to hit free agency in a month. He could receive the franchise tag to remain with the Buccaneers and play alongside fellow wideout Mike Evans, who will make $12.25 million in base salary in 2021.

“(Godwin) loves it here,” Arians said Thursday on 95.3 WDAE Radio. “It’s hard to leave and go to another system just for money. But it’s not bad paying two No. 1 receivers, that’s for sure, when they’re as good as our two No. 1s.”

The Bucs will have slightly more money at their disposal after the NFL raised the salary cap floor to $180 million on Thursday.

“It’s usually the money … if it’s close, I think our guys really want to stay,” Arians said. “They know they have something special. I don’t think any of them want to leave. I don’t get involved in the dollars. I just let them know we want them back.”

Godwin, who turns 25 next week, recorded 65 catches for 840 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games last season. His numbers took a dip after his breakout Pro Bowl season campaign in 2019, during which he posted career-high totals in receptions (86), receiving yards (1,333) and touchdowns (nine).

Wide receiver Antonio Brown, running back Leonard Fournette, tight end Rob Gronkowski, linebackers Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David, and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh are all free agents.

–Field Level Media

Oct 25, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) and coach Bruce Arians embrace after the game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. The Buccaneers defeated the Raiders 45-20. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Arians opens up on decision to take swing at Brady

One year ago at this time, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers knew they were at a quarterback crossroads.

With former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston ending his fifth season with the NFL’s first-ever 30-30 season (33 touchdown passes, and NFL-high 30 interceptions) and the 7-9 Bucs missing the playoffs for the 12th straight season, it was time for a major move.

And according to head coach Bruce Arians, once six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady became available for the first time in his career, it was time for Tampa Bay to push all of their chips in.

As Arians reflected Thursday on how far the franchise has come in 12 months — just over a week until playing in Super Bowl LV against the Kansas City Chiefs — the subject during the Buccaneers’ media session shifted to why the Bucs gambled the organization on a passer who would be 43 during the 2020 season, even if he is arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history.

“You can’t hit a home run unless you’re going to swing for one,” Arians said. “You can’t do anything special in life sitting on a fence.”

In hindsight, no one would question the signing of the oldest free-agent starting quarterback the league has seen, not after Brady again defied time by throwing for 40 touchdown passes and 4,633 yards in leading Tampa Bay to 11 wins and its first Super Bowl appearance since 2002 — the season after Brady won his first Super Bowl at age 24.

Despite his six rings, Brady’s performance had dipped — with decreases in both pass yards and touchdown tosses in consecutive seasons. Yes, Brady had recently won a Super Bowl in beating the Los Angeles Rams in 2018, but his offense put up just 13 points that day — and Brady looked (gasp) older and slower in the Patriots’ playoff loss to Tennessee last season.

But according to Arians, once Brady became available, there was no hesitation in Tampa Bay.

“The question back then was, ‘If there was a quarterback that was a free agent, who would you want?’ ” Arians recalled. “Of course, it was Tom Brady, not thinking he’d become a free agent.

“Once he did, it was a pursuit that we wanted to make and [we] knew he had some interest.”

When asked about the Buccaneers’ supposed gamble on Brady, the NFL icon displayed the confidence of a man who had no doubt a record 10th trip to the Super Bowl was entirely possible.

“I’d like to think that I wasn’t that much of a chance after a lot of years,” Brady said. “Becoming a free agent and then having the opportunity to continue my playing career. … I love the opportunity that presented itself here, which is ultimately why I chose here. I really love the coaching staff, I loved the players that they had. I looked at those players and thought, ‘Wow, these are really great players. This would be a good opportunity for me.’ “

The ride was not always smooth. Brady’s Bucs began the season losing to fellow quarterback legend Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the season opener, then again 38-3 on a Monday night to Brees on national television.

Tampa Bay looked wonky at times at 7-5, but since a Week 13 bye, the Bucs have won seven straight and have peaked into becoming the first team ever to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.

“It just ended up being a great fit and as it’s played out, I’ve just thought, ‘Wow, this has really been a magical year.’ ” Brady said. “For me as a player to switch teams, that takes a lot. To move my family, to go to a different conference, to keep building the way we did and develop a rapport with the guys that we have here — so much of football is about the relationships that you get with your teammates [and your] coaches. The fact that we’re still playing feels really good for me and [I] understand that we’ve put a lot into it.

“Hopefully we can go finish the job.”

The final step will not be easy — against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs, winners of 25 of their last 27 games, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Arians was asked Thursday if Kansas City’s young star could chase down Brady’s records one day, and replied, “There’s no doubt that if there was a player who could do it, it would be Patrick.”

But Arians also hinted that his team would always go down swinging, regardless of the odds or the challenge.

“That’s how you live life. Do you sit and live in a closet trying to be safe, [or are] you going to have some fun?”

–Field Level Media

Dec 20, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws a pass against Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) in the first half of a NFL game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs’ Antoine Winfield Jr., Antonio Brown won’t practice this week

Standout safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and wideout Antonio Brown won’t practice this week and coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday it’s “too early” to know if they’ll be available for Super Bowl LV.

Both missed the NFC Championship, Brown with a knee injury and Winfield with an ankle ailment. Brown suffered his injury in the divisional game against the New Orleans Saints and Winfield was hurt during practice ahead of the NFC title game.

“I think it’s too early,” Arians said, when asked on a radio show if Brown and Winfield would be ready by Feb. 7. “Neither one of those guys will probably practice this week and we’ll see how it rolls out next Tuesday for both of them.”

Further, NFL Network reports Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead, who was knocked out of the NFC title game against the Green Bay Packers, has not been ruled out of the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs. Whitehead injured his shoulder on a tackle and did not return but is going to try to play, per the report.

Winfield started all 16 games as a rookie and finished with 94 tackles, three sacks and interception and six passes defensed.

Brown had 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns.

In the interview with 95.3 WDAE, Arians also said he’s coming back next season, responding with “hell no” when asked if he’d consider retiring if he won his first Super Bowl.

“I’m going for two. There’s no doubt. If the Glazers have me back, I’ll be back,” Arians said.

–Field Level Media

Nov 29, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones (27) runs the ball against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs’ Bruce Arians plays waiting game with Ronald Jones

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians is keeping a positive outlook on running back Ronald Jones.

“‘Ro’ is getting better (but) he did not practice today. I anticipate and hope he can go tomorrow,” Arians said Wednesday.

Jones, 23, was active for Saturday’s wild-card game against the Washington Football Team, however he aggravated a quad injury prior to the contest.

Fellow running back Leonard Fournette stepped up in his absence, rushing 19 times for 93 yards and a touchdown in Tampa Bay’s 31-23 win over Washington.

It’s too early to tell how the carries will be distributed on Sunday when the Buccaneers visit the New Orleans Saints in their NFC divisional round game.

Jones led the team in carries (192), rushing yards (978) and rushing touchdowns (seven).

Fournette, 25, had 97 rushes for 367 yards and six scores as part of the platoon.

“Yeah, I’m good. I’m fresh to be honest,” Fournette said of how he feels at this point of the year. “I think my total carries for this year is around 100 — usually around this time I’m at 300-something to be honest.

“Like I say, ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ I’m just happy to be a part of the team. (I am) doing my job to help the team get to where we want to be and what we want to win.”

LeSean McCoy, 32, returned to practice on Wednesday after missing time with an illness. The veteran would be in line for additional backup work should Jones sit out versus the Saints.

–Field Level Media

Oct 4, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard (80) catches a touchdown pass over Los Angeles Chargers outside linebacker Kyzir White (44) in the third quarter of a NFL game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs fear torn Achilles for TE Howard

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard is believed to have suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon on Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, head coach Bruce Arians announced after the game.

Howard had three receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown before he left the game in the second half. Tampa Bay went on to win 38-31 as Tom Brady connected with five different players, including Howard, for receiving scores.

The 25-year-old Howard is in his fourth season with Tampa Bay, which selected him in the first round (No. 19 overall) out of Alabama in 2017. He has 105 receptions for 1,602 yards and 14 touchdowns with the Bucs.

The absence of Howard could increase the importance of Rob Gronkowski in the Tampa Bay passing game. Gronkowski had one catch for 29 yards on Sunday, giving him nine receptions for 88 yards on the season.

–Field Level Media

Sep 13, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) heads to the locker room following a 34-23 loss against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs’ Arians: ‘Tom and I are fine’

Public criticism of six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady from his head coach led to speculation he could already be in the doghouse with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Buccaneers lost at New Orleans in Week 1, when Brady threw a pick-6 and made other decisions openly chided by Bruce Arians, whose previous pupils include Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer.

“Tom and I are fine, so I don’t really care what other people think. It’s just what he and I think,” Arians said Wednesday. “We left the stadium fine (and) we showed up today fine, so there (is) nothing to talk about.”

Arians said he “thought we were ready” and questioned the connection between Brady and his wide receivers.

But Arians emphasized turning the page, even borrowing Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s phraseology that Tampa is “onto Carolina.” The Buccaneers host the Panthers on Sunday.

Between now and then, Arians said he is paying little attention to any pundits already writing his team off in the NFC South.

“I was amused when they handed us the Lombardi trophy in July. It’s part of the business,” Arians said. “You go with it and it’s one week at a time (and) one day at a time. We win a few games in a row and everybody will be back on the bandwagon [and] happy. It’s just part of the game. If we lose this week, the world will come to an end.”

Brady could be without wide receiver Chris Godwin (concussion) in Week 2. Mike Evans, limited last week by a hamstring injury, was able to practice Wednesday.

“He’s feeling good. He ran really well and had a good practice,” Arians said of Evans, who was officially listed as a limited participant in practice.

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (27) dances during training camp at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Arians says Jones still the starter in Bucs’ backfield

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians reiterated Thursday that Ronald Jones is still the starter in the team’s ever-crowded backfield despite the signing of Leonard Fournette.

Arians said last month that Jones would “carry the load” for the team this season, and that was before the arrival of Fournette, whom the Bucs signed Wednesday.

“It’s his job. Nothing’s changed for him,” Arians said of Jones. “We’ve just added a heck of a piece of insurance and [we’ll] see what kind of role he can cut out,” Arians said. “But RoJo — it’s his job if he wins it or loses it. He’s already got it, so he’s gonna have to screw it up. I don’t see that happening.”

Arians said 32-year-old LeSean McCoy, who has rushed for 11,071 yards in 11 NFL seasons, “is ready for his role” after signing with the team in August.

Tampa Bay also drafted two running backs (Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Raymond Calais) in April. The roster also includes Dare Ogunbowale, who caught 35 passes for 286 yards out of the Bucs’ backfield in 2019.

Jones, who turned 23 last month, led the Bucs in carries (172) and rushing yards (724) and tied for the team lead with six rushing touchdowns in 2019. He added 31 catches for 309 yards in 16 games.

Fournette is expected to practice with the team Tuesday, at the earliest, after completing his physical and COVID-19 testing protocol. Arians said Fournette could possibly play against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1.

“If I know him, he’ll be pretty fast-paced,” Arians said. “So we’ll try to get him up to speed as fast as we can and see if he can have a role for next week.”

Fournette was placed on waivers Monday after the Jacksonville Jaguars failed to trade the No. 4 overall pick from the 2017 draft. Fournette, who was entering the final year of his contract, cleared waivers and became a free agent Tuesday afternoon.

ESPN reported Fournette, 25, filed a grievance against the Jaguars to recoup his $4.17 million base salary.

He had 2,631 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns in three seasons with the Jaguars. Last year, Fournette amassed 1,152 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 265 carries in 15 games for Jacksonville. He added a career-high 76 receptions for 522 yards.

–Field Level Media

Aug 4, 2020; Tampa, Florida,USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) practices at AdventHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs’ Arians: Gronk looks like he did ‘5 or 6 years ago’

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski looks like a new man in the eyes of head coach Bruce Arians.

After all, Gronkowski is no longer wearing his bulky elbow brace, and the one-year retirement appears to have added some pep in his step.

“No similarities at all. He looks like he was five or six years ago before all the injuries,” Arians said on Thursday of the 31-year-old Gronkowski. “The back surgeries have healed, so he had a year of healing. He looks to me like he was five or six years ago.

“… He’s moving. He’s running fast again. He’s got great body control. Some of the things — the stiffness that I saw at the end of his career with all the injuries — it looks like it’s gone.”

Arians isn’t the only one singing the praises of the 6-foot-6 Gronkowski, who is a future Hall of Famer with 521 career catches for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns.

“I think the most amazing thing about Gronk is that as big of a guy he is, he’s athletic. He can do a lot of things. He’s got some quick-twitch movements,” Tampa Bay tight ends coach Rick Christophel said. “Everything that you’ve seen being in the league and seeing him play, getting to watch him on film, getting to watch him on television — I think the most important thing is it matters to him. He loves it. He has fun. He loves to play the game and he has fun out there, but it matters to him.

“When he makes a mistake, it hurts him and like Tom (Brady), he wants to win. I think that’s a big component of what makes his personality.”

Gronkowski admitted it took some time to get adjusted to his new surroundings.

“Definitely no regrets,” Gronkowski said. “I’m here, I’m supposed to be here — I feel like I’m supposed to be here. That’s definitely in the past and I’m here to play football now. I’m glad to be here. Going out there and just playing ball — it feels good. Let me tell you, the first couple practices, it definitely felt weird. …

“As time goes on and as the days go on, I feel better about myself being out there. My confidence keeps going up, the game is slowing down, I’m starting to pick up the offense more. But overall, it’s going good. I have so much more to work on and so much more to improve on, but I am really glad to be here.”

–Field Level Media