Antony Auclair won't be there to help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defend their Super Bowl crown.
After four seasons with Tampa Bay, Auclair has signed a contract with the Houston Texans. The six-foot-six, 256-pound native of Notre-Dame-des-Pins, Que., was on the Buccaneers 53-man roster but didn't dress for their 31-9 Super Bowl victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 7.
Auclair, 27, became a free agent this off-season and said multiple teams had expressed an interest in him. But with 2017 first-round pick O.J. Howard set to return to Tampa Bay next season, Auclair's departure wasn't overly surprising.
"Patience was a key in this free agency," Auclair told reporters during a videoconference Friday. "The market was different than last year with the salary cap going down.
"There was an opportunity there (return to Tampa) but for me as a player and for my future, the best thing for me is to move forward and try somewhere else. We were trying to see what teams had the most interest and the Texans were there right from the start of free agency and that means a lot."
Auclair played eight games last season, starting two. He joined the Bucs as an undrafted free agent in 2017 out of Laval and was used mostly as a blocking tight end, registering 10 catches for 84 yards in 40 career contests (20 starts).
It will be a crowded tight end room in Houston for Auclair. Once camp opens, he'll compete against Jordan Akins, Kahale Warring, Paul Quessenberry, Pharaoh Brown and Ryan Izzo for a roster spot.
Akins was Houston's leading tight end last year with 37 catches for 403 yards and a TD in 13 games.
"It's just a fresh start with a new team," Auclair said. "I can't change who I am.
"I'm a good blocker, a decent receiver."
It's been a busy off-season for the Texans, who hired a new GM (Nick Caserio) and head coach (David Culley) while also releasing veteran defensive lineman J.J. Watt, three times the NFL's defensive player of the year.
More recently, quarterback DeShaun Watson has been accused of sexual assault and misconduct in over 20 lawsuits.
Auclair's best season with Tampa Bay was 2018 when he appeared in all 18 regular-season games and registered seven catches for 48 yards. But he battled injuring during his tenure there, appearing in eight contests in each of the other three seasons.
"What I learned the most last year was how to take care of my body because I always have some little injuries here and there and its always annoying in the end,: he said. "I'm just trying to learn how to stay healthy longer.
"I think I'm doing a good job of that this off-season trying to upgrade everything I do and doing it smarter. I'm just trying to be a better player overall."
Auclair could only chuckle when asked about heading into his fifth NFL campaign.
"Time flies, man," Auclair said. "It seems like my rookie year was last year and everything is going so fast.
"I'm a Super Bowl champion and it's been four years going on a fifth. It's crazy."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press