Tavon Austin will become an unrestricted free agent in just a few weeks and right now he seems to be flying under the radar. The receiver and return specialist isn't getting much attention with guys like DeMarcus Lawrence and Cole Beasley also becoming free agents, but Austin could be an important signing for the Dallas Cowboys in 2019.
No, Tavon's first year in Dallas wasn't much to write home about. He missed nine games due to injury and only got 14 touches on offense. Even his ability as a return man wasn't really seen until the playoffs.
But even in those limited flashes we saw Austin's athletic potential. He can be dangerous with the ball in his hands, and this Cowboys offense needs more players who can break things open with their own talent.
Even though he turns 29 next month, Tavon still has some value. I think that Dallas would be smart to get him re-signed in the next few weeks before the start of 2019 free agency.
Here are the three biggest reasons why:
1. Austin Should Be Fairly Cheap
Give his age and last year's health issues, Tavon shouldn't be able to command a big contract in free agency. Rather go through all of that uncertainty, he might be willing to take a modest deal to stay in Dallas and enjoy a peaceful offseason.
As a former 8th-overall pick Austin has already made some good money since entering the league in 2013. One source has his career earnings at over $38 million. He might be in a position to value job security and stability, rather than risk it to chase a bigger payday that might never come.
The Cowboys might be able to keep Tavon at about $3 million/year and throw in some incentives to sweeten the deal. That's a solid offer given where he's at in his career and what he would at least offer as the primary return man.
As we'll see in our next two sections, Austin has the potential to do much more than we saw last season. If Dallas uses its leverage to re-sign him at a bargain before free agency, it could wind up being a significant investment for the next few years.
2. Insurance at WR, RB, and Special Teams
As mentioned before, Cole Beasley is one of the biggest names among the Cowboys' expiring contracts in 2019. If he winds up leaving then Dallas will be in need of a new slot receiver, and Tavon Austin has the skills to play that role.
Last year when he arrived, Austin was reportedly getting looks at running back as well. With Rod Smith also a free agent, Dallas could at least feel good about having Tavon for some potential plays out of the backfield. It doesn't mean they won't need to find another true backup RB, but Austin could round out the depth chart with his versatility and save a roster spot for another position.
Similarly, having Tavon also covers you with your return roles on special teams. He showed in January some of the dynamic things he can do there. If he can stay healthy in 2019, Austin might give the Cowboys one of the better return specialists in the league.
It's great to go into an offseason with as many bases covered as possible. What's more, having Tavon signed would give the Cowboys even more leverage in any potential contract talks with Beasley.
3. Will More Creativity Mean More Production?
The change at Offensive Coordinator from Scott Linehan to Kellen Moore is hopefully going to bring a new creative spark to the Cowboys. A player with Tavon Austin's versatile skills is just the kind of guy that Moore might find new and better ways to utilize.
Sure, we saw Linehan attempt the typical reverse play or screen. But there is a lot more that an innovator can do with a guy like Austin, and Scott was hardly that.
At just 30 years old, Kellen Moore was given this job based on a belief in his “genius.” It didn't seem like the last OC knew what to do with even his best players, let alone gadgets like Tavon. Hopefully Moore can do better.
If so, Tavon Austin might be far more valuable going forward than he ever could have been last year. If the Cowboys can re-sign him now based on his current value, that could prove to be a major bargain for 2019.