The Los Angeles Rams surprised the rest of the league by renegotiating with wide receiver Tavon Austin earlier this week. Most experts believed the team would release him by March 16, but there appears to have been a change of plans in Los Angeles.
The new deal eliminates almost all of Austin’s remaining contract. He will play under a 1-year, $5 million deal with $3 million available in incentives. Originally, Austin would have counted $5 million against the Rams’ salary cap if they let him go anyways. That number would have reached $8 million if he was still on the roster on March 16. Basically, both the Rams and Austin got something out of the deal. The Rams are no longer automatically on the hook for $8 million in 2018, and Austin has a chance to rebuild his career and potentially earn a big contract.
The reaction on social media and other outlets to this deal was strong to say the least. More than one Rams blogger argued vehemently against this on Twitter. However, I understand why the Rams did this, and it makes sense. First, I doubt the Rams found a trade partner for Austin that would work. They likely wanted some draft capital back for him, and teams weren’t going to do that. Opposing teams expected the Rams to release him.
The other issue comes down to now former wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Head coach Sean McVay lost a major vertical weapon. Watkins possesses elite talent, and he took that talent with him to the Kansas City Chiefs. Austin is a completely different player. He’s not a gifted routerunner, and he lacks the height needed to be what the Rams need overall. Yet he remains one of the fastest players on the field at any given time. If anyone can get anything out of Austin, I’m confident that McVay can do it.
Most people forget that Austin missed time during last offseason while recovering from wrist surgery. Austin then missed time in training camp with a hamstring injury. It’s easy to fall behind in McVay’s offense. Austin will finally have a chance to get a full offseason working with a dynamic playbook.
Some experts will rightfully argue that Austin had years to prove his worth prior to 2017. Still, I can count on one hand the number of people that recorded solid offensive seasons during former head coach Jeff Fisher’s tenure. Let’s be real about that. Austin’s development as a football player suffered just like anyone else’s did under Fisher. That doesn’t excuse Austin’s failures, but it does give them some context.
The reality is that the Rams were already on the hook for Austin’s $5 million in 2018. If they couldn’t get a worthy trade partner, they might as well see if they can get something out of Austin’s ability. One year from now, we might be looking back on this deal and smiling at Austin saving his career and finally living up to the talent we’ve always known was there.
Derek Ciapala is the co-founder and managing editor of Rams Talk. He has been published on Yahoo! Sports, Sports Out West and multiple other websites. You can check him out on Facebook or Twitter @dciapala.