Only one player on the Rams’ roster carried a higher cap hit than Tavon Austin in 2017, but he was hardly the second-most productive player on the team. His $14.98 million cap charge was second only to Trumaine Johnson, who played the year on the franchise tag.
Johnson was a 15-game starter and played a huge role on defense, shadowing opposing No. 1 receivers on a weekly basis. Austin, on the other hand, played just 228 snaps and touched the ball on offense only 72 times.
It was hardly a successful season for a player counting $15 million against the cap, but he did make a bit of history – just not the kind he’d hoped to make.
According to Pro-Football Reference, Austin is the first wide receiver in NFL history to catch at least 13 passes for fewer than 50 yards. The next-closest player was Greg DeLong in 1999 when he caught 13 passes for 52 yards.
This season, Austin had 13 receptions for just 47 yards, many of which were on screen passes. His longest catch went for just 13 yards, while he had three go for negative yardage. Only three passes were considered “deep” in the direction of Austin all season and none of them were completed.
Now, as bad as he was as a receiver, Austin did contribute as a running back. He carried it 59 times for 270 yards, averaging a respectable 4.6 yards per attempt this season. With the Rams, his best role seems to be as that change-of-pace back, but that doesn’t make his contract any easier to pay.
The Rams have a decision to make with him this offseason because they can save $3 million of his $8 million cap hit by releasing him.In the biggest game of his life on Saturday, Tavon Austin was more of a spectator than a contributor. That’s been the case for much of the season. He played limited snaps in his new role as a change-of-pace back, but that trend was taken to a new level against the Falcons.
Austin played just two snaps all night, which is tied for the fewest in his career. He had one other game this season in which he was on the field for just two plays, but that wasn’t a win-or-go-home situation.
Austin didn’t comment on his lack of playing time after the Rams’ loss, but coach Sean McVay explained the reasoning behind his lack of playing time on Sunday.
“I think it does have to do with we didn’t get a whole lot of plays off early on. Then both, at the end of the half and at the end of the game, you’re kind of in the two-minute type of situation where you’re not really operating in your normal first- and second-down offense,” McVay said.
The Rams’ offense did sputter out of the gate. It went three-and-out on its first two drives before punting on its third possession, tallying just 14 yards. On its fourth drive, the punt was muffed and subsequently recovered by the Falcons.
In that regard, McVay had a good reason for not getting Austin involved early. And really, as a whole, the Rams only ran 64 plays.
It doesn’t help that just about every single one of those plays were in 11 personnel with three receivers and one tight end on the field, giving Austin very little opportunity to contribute.
“You’ve got Robert (Woods), you’ve got Cooper (Kupp), you’ve got Sammy (Watkins) – those are your three guys that you’re really rolling through,” McVay said. “We just didn’t really get a chance to get into the flow of that, but Tavon has made a lot of contributions that really go unnoticed in terms of what he opens up because of the threat. Last night just didn’t present much of an opportunity to get him involved just because of the flow of the game.”
By saying his contributions go unnoticed, McVay is referring to the fact that Austin often opens things up for Todd Gurley in the running game with jet sweeps and fake handoffs. There were only two of those instances on Saturday night, but they hardly helped Gurley find a running lane.
McVay has consistently praised Austin for his role with the Rams, but that’ll be put to the test this offseason. Austin isn’t a free agent, but with a cap hit of $8 million in 2018, it’s unclear if he’ll be back in L.A.
If the Rams opt to move on, they can cut him and save $3 million next season and another $27 million in the following three years. For a player with his lack of production, it’s certainly an option.
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