Tampa Bay doesn’t have much of a need at the wide receiver position as things stand for 2019. Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin create a pretty formidable trio any NFL defense would loathe to see on their schedule. Add in tight ends like O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, and it’s easy to see why this team had one of the league’s best passing attacks in 2018.
Now, with key contributor Adam Humphries getting set to hit the open market, there is a potential for the team to add a fourth receiver to the room. There’s potential in the young names already on the roster, but a veteran looking to revive his career could be a cheap addition who could really turn up the heat on the Bucs’ offense in 2019.
Tavon Austin is just such a player. And is up next in our free-agent preview series.
Tavon Austin’s Career
After becoming a first-round draft pick by the then St. Louis Rams, Austin turned in more than 1,100 all-purpose yards in two of his first three seasons and nineteen touchdowns.
His best season came in 2015, and as a result the franchise signed him to a $42M extension in 2016 with $30M guaranteed.
The move was praised at the time, with then head coach Jeff Fisher quoted as saying,
“It is important to our organization to retain players we’ve drafted and invested in, and Tavon is an example of that.”
Along with moving to Los Angeles in the 2016 off-season, keeping Austin under contract were both exciting things happening to the Rams franchise. Then came the 2016 season.
Austin’s offensive output dipped by almost one-third. His touchdown production was cut in half, and for the first time in his career he went a full season with no special teams scores.
2017 brought in Sean McVay, and worse numbers for the former franchise fixture. 383 all-purpose yards and one score sealed the deal, and Austin was traded to the Dallas Cowboys for a sixth-round draft pick in the 2018 off-season.
As a member of the Cowboys, his statistical output wasn’t any better, but this came in large part due to the fact he appeared in just ten games due to injury.
Now, Austin is coming off of back-to-back down seasons and an injury. The Cowboys may be willing to re-sign the speed threat, but no to the amount of money likely to get him nailed down before talking to other teams.
Why The Buccaneers Need Him
For the right price, signing a guy like Austin could provide a versatile insurance policy while filling a critical need for the team.
New head coach Bruce Arians has already gone on record saying one of his first priorities for the roster is improving special teams. For a franchise with a pretty bleak history in the special teams department, this is music to the ears of most fans.
Field position is important, as it’s pretty simple to say the fewer yards needed to score a touchdown, the better your chances of scoring.
As a punt returner, Austin could provide speed and experience the Bucs haven’t seen in years. If veteran DeSean Jackson does in fact return for 2019, he’s still coming off a season here he missed the final five weeks due to injury himself.
If Jackson misses time again, the team could suddenly find themselves speed deficient outside of Bobo Wilson who has all of eight games of NFL experience in his two seasons with the Bucs.
Having a player like Austin to call up for his speed and quick twitch ability could prove extremely useful in that situation.
What Will Austin Cost?
It’s hard to really tell. Speed kills in the NFL, and while Austin hasn’t reached his potential the last few years, he’s still going to run fast.
Teams have seen what he could be. He wasn’t producing for the Rams on accident. I don’t believe he was worth the deal he got, but that’s history.
Anything in the $1-3M range would be acceptable, preferably with most of the money incentive based, and little guaranteed if any.
In the end, it’ll depend on just how many teams see his speed as something worth giving a try without wanting to necessarily spend draft capital on guys like Marquise Brown in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Will It Happen?
I could easily see the Buccaneers giving Austin’s people a call and maybe even scheduling a workout. Especially with the future of Jackson up in the air - officially.
There are fast receivers in the draft this year, and Jackson is under contract. So all of this along with Wilson entering his third season with the franchise means the team has no reason to overpay a guy like Austin.
If his future becomes any type of bidding war, then Tampa will likely pull out quickly. But, floating a vet minimum contract with some special teams incentives could do the trick, and joining a coach like Bruce Arians on a team who led the league in passing offense and was third in total offense just one year ago certainly looks to me like a prime spot to try and revive a once bright future.