Los Angeles Rams WR Tavon Austin is headed into the most important season of his career.
Moving up from #16 to #8 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft to take him, Austin entered the NFL with tons of expectations coming out of Head Coach Dana Holgorsen’s high-powered West Virginia offense. In short, he has not met those expectations.
Whether it was former HC Jeff Fisher or former Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer or former OC Frank Cignetti, Jr., or former OC Rob Boras, all the chief offensive designers failed to help Tavon Austin turn into a top receiver in the NFL.
This didn’t stop fan optimism, though. Consider the poll in this piece from misone last July in which he asked what the chances were Austin would hit 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns. A full 89% said the chances he would were 50% or better. Just 3% said there was no chance. Austin finished the year with 668 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns. #toonegative
Austin nevertheless hit season high numbers in 2016 with 106 targets, 58 receptions and 509 receiving yards. Sadly, those numbers only furthered his reach in the NFL record books:
Among all WRs with >200 targets in their career, Tavon Austin is the all-time least-efficient (yds/tgt) WR since targets became a stat. pic.twitter.com/3i9eXIaX25— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) January 2, 2017
That is not good, friends.
Yet, the Rams shelled out a huge contract extension to Austin last year in the buildup to the regular season. As part of that extension, Austin was guaranteed a roster bonus this year of nearly $11.5m.
And so it was that the Rams dropped nearly $15m of guaranteed money on the wide receiver who has the lowest yards per target rate of any WR in the history of the NFL.
So now what to do? New Rams HC Sean McVay and OC Matt LaFleur are no doubt eager to see if they can make good on the potential their forebears could not. His raw speed has never been in question. His inability to apply that speed (or find ways to have it applied for him) have always been the problem, a problem that has created the chasm between the hope for Tavon (89%) and the reality he has provided (3%).
The 2018 offseason looms large for Tavon. He’s due a roster bonus of $5m on the third day of the league year. That $5m would be the only dead money the Rams would have to eat if they released him, a move that would return $3m in cap savings. None of the money in Austin’s contract beyond 2018 is guaranteed; those three years would incur no dead money per his release and offer cap savings of more than $9m per year from 2019-21.
It’s no certainty that the Rams release Tavon Austin in 12 months. It’s a certain possibility.
For a player who was valued incredibly highly for what he has yet to achieve when it matters by an administration that had every opportunity to improve the team overall and failed (perhaps miserably at that), he now finds himself working under a new coaching staff that might not value that hypothetical production nearly as much.
There are 16 games in the 2017 Los Angeles Rams’ regular season. They might matter more for Tavon Austin than for any other Ram.