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Why did Tavon Austin agree to stay with the Los Angeles Rams?

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The dimming star agreed to shred his contract for, essentially, a discounted franchise tag to try and revive his sagging NFL career in LA in 2018. Why?

Los Angeles Rams WR Tavon Austin waits to take the field before playing the Buffalo Bills in Week 5, 2016
Los Angeles Rams WR Tavon Austin waits to take the field before playing the Buffalo Bills in Week 5, 2016
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Last evening, we learned that WR Tavon Austin had agreed to a restructuring of his contract with the Los Angeles Rams that eliminated the final three years of the deal from 2019-21 in which he was scheduled to make $28,133,777. Now, he will receive his $5m that he was scheduled to get nonetheless, but his unguaranteed $3m salary he was scheduled to receive for 2018 will be converted into incentive-based bonuses.

All of which begs the question...why the hell did Tavon agree to this?

Consider the alternative. Tavon would have otherwise been released. How much would he have earned on the market? Is there even a comparable situation given Austin’s skill set?

Former Arizona Cardinals WR John Brown just signed a one-year deal for $5m with $1.5m in incentives, a similar deal to what Austin just re-structured to. All of the other deals we’ve seen given to wide receivers in free agency are, like Brown, more conventional wideouts compared to Austin and all offer much more production. So it’s not unfair to assume that what Tavon agreed to with the Rams isn’t the minimum he might have found on the market anyway. Which means essentially what he agreed to was the sense that his role in the Rams will position him best in a year’s time when this deal runs out.

And that’s hard to understand.

Here’s the position both the team and Austin are offering by obviously agreeing to terms:

The problem is that it doesn’t make any sense.

The Rams had one of the best offenses in the NFL last year. The combination of new personnel (LT Andrew Whitworth, WR Sammy Watkins, WR Robert Woods and WR Cooper Kupp, chiefly) along with improved performances from existing personnel (QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley, chiefly) in new Head Coach Sean McVay’s offensive system all came together in harmony at the exact right moment. It also included minimizing Tavon Austin’s role to a larger degree than at any time in his five-year career.

With just 22 targets in the passing game, Austin was relegated to one main role: as a decoy in horizontal action. In order to make him effective as a decoy, he had to occasionally receive the ball. He averaged less than four carries per game to ensure that teams respected that pre-snap action. But that deception was never integrated into the main offensive system. Ultimately, Austin played in less than 22% of the offensive snaps.

And in a way, what that means is that those 22% of the offensive snaps took away from the main offensive system. The plays that integrated Austin were an offshoot. A tangent. They weren’t part of the offense; they were an aberration from it. The most obvious evidence of this was the Rams’ most important game of the year: the loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the Wild Card Round of the 2018 NFL Playoffs.

In the most important game of the year when the Rams were forced to rely on the offensive system of utmost importance, Tavon Austin played two of the Rams’ 68 offensive snaps. The Rams were pushed to their limits and decided that Austin was not part of their solution to the biggest problem they faced all year.

So why is he still a Ram?

We’ve been down this road before.

2014:

I know there was a lot of conversation about (the Rams) need a receiver, they need to go and get a Sammy Watkins or somebody to juice it up, but -- the eighth pick in the draft! You’re expecting Tavon Austin to be a difference-maker, so now the onus really falls on Brian Schottenheimer to show that he has the ability to craft game plans to maximize the talent.

2015:

“We’re going to continue to put Tavon Austin in position to make plays.”

2016:

The one thing we know about Tavon is, he’s a special playmaker. Any way you can get an explosive guy like that the ball, we’ve got to get creative and do it.

This offense has been re-designed to make sure he gets touches of the football. He’s going to have a big year this year.

Every year in the previous regime, we were treated to quotes from Head Coach Jeff Fisher and any of his three final offensive coordinators about how the offense was going to cater to Austin’s skill set, about how he would be a focus of the entire system. In each of those three seasons, the offense got worse and worse.

Last year, there were no such proclamations. The offense moved on. And up.


Austin no longer will field kick or punt returns. He will no longer be treated to fantasies of 100 receptions by a head coach who enjoyed toying with a willful media. Should the Rams try to shoehorn him into their offense, it will only take away from more capable, more apt options in Woods, Kupp and up-and-coming targets like TE Gerald Everett and WR Josh Reynolds.

Both Austin and the Rams would have been best served by moving on. It would have been a storyline worth rooting for. Instead, we’re going to have to abide by the most unnecessary of all recent plot twists as Austin tries to eke out one last run toward making good on the potential he offered as the eighth overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Tavon Austin agreed to one last go with the team that moved on from him so obviously just two and a half months ago in the Coliseum in the biggest game for the franchise in a decade and a half.

Why?