Tight end O.J. Howard is reportedly "expected to sign" with the Cincinnati Bengals after being released by the Buffalo Bills as part of final roster cuts Tuesday.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported the Bengals are hosting Howard on a free-agent visit Wednesday and that he'll likely join the reigning AFC champions barring any issues with his physical.
Howard's release by the Bills came as a surprise at the national level, in large part because he signed a mostly guaranteed one-year contract in March, but his play throughout training camp failed to impress.
The 27-year-old former Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter hasn't showcased the same physical skills since suffering a torn Achilles in October 2020, and he was unable to outplay Tommy Sweeney and Quintin Morris in the battle for reserve spots behind Dawson Knox in Buffalo.
Howard told Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News he went through some "growing pains" after his move to the Bills and he knew there was no certainty heading into roster cutdown day.
"Every time you step on the field during training camp, you know that it's going to come to this day," he said. "The GMs, they don't like to do it. You get close with a lot of players, and then people get cut. As a mindset for yourself, nobody's ever safe, so you always have to have that perspective and just leave it all out on the field every time you get an opportunity."
The 2017 first-round pick, who tallied 119 catches in 59 games for the Bucs, would likely be ticketed for a larger role in Cincinnati than he would have played in Buffalo.
Hayden Hurst is penciled in as the Bengals' starter at the position, but he's played mostly a reserve role in previous stops with the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons, and backups Drew Sample (knee) and Mitchell Wilcox (ankle) both dealt with injuries during camp.
Howard probably isn't an every-down player at this stage, but he can be a valuable blocker and red-zone target for quarterback Joe Burrow, who has no shortage of targets thanks to a group of wide receivers featuring Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.
In the big picture, the Bengals and Bills could end up fighting for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and may end up facing each other in the playoffs, so the Howard storyline has a chance to come full circle.
For now, Cincy is focused on rounding out its roster before kicking off the regular season Sept. 11 when it welcomes the AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers to Paycor Stadium.