Special teams has been an eyesore for the Dallas Cowboys the last few years. They took a big step to fixing that by hiring John Fassel this offseason, one of the most respect special teams coaches in football. Given their past work together with the Rams, would it also make sense for Dallas to re-sign Tavon Austin for Fassel's crew?
Fassel was the Special Teams Coordinator for Los Angeles for 2012-2019. He helped draft Tavon in 2013 and coached him for five seasons.
While Austin never lived up to being an 8th-overall pick in his draft he was still a versatile offensive weapon and standout return man. He returned a punt for a touchdown in each of his first three seasons.
Austin was traded to Dallas in 2018, the same year that the Cowboys lost Rich Bisaccia as their special teams coach. Bisaccia jumped ship to join Jon Gruden's staff in Oakland, and then Dallas promoted Keith O'Quinn to fill the vacant job.
While it's not clear how much was the coach's doing or just bad breaks, the Cowboys' special teams fell apart over the last two years under O'Quinn. Dallas got little out of the return game on either kickoffs or punts.
Tavon hasn't returned kickoffs much since his rookie year, but the Cowboys have Tony Pollard for that job. The key concern here is on punts and, as of now, nobody on the current roster has a proven record in that area.
I say “on the current roster” because Tavon Austin remains an unsigned free agent following the expiration of his last contract.
Bringing Austin back in 2020 would not only provide a reliable punt returner but also some much-needed experience on the WR depth chart. While he's been inconsistent, Tavon has been able to step up and make plays on offense when given opportunities.
This was especially seen in Dallas' Week 6 loss to the Jets last year. Randall Cobb was out with injury and Amari Cooper left the game on the first series. That led to six rare targets to Austin in the passing game, which he turned into five catches for 64 yards.
No, I don't think Tavon should be given Randall Cobb's vacant job as the #3 receiver. But if he's on the 53 as WR depth while also serving as your punt returner, that's solid roster value.
With Austin having just turned 30 in March there's an argument to be made for finding a younger option. But returning punts is about much than speed and agility. Vision and reaction ability are critical and Tavon has proven those skills during his NFL career.
Even if the Cowboys spend a high pick at WR in the upcoming 2020 Draft that rookie may not have return value.
The key man in this discussion is John Fassel. Does he still have interest in working with Tavon Austin after their previous time together? Does Fassel think he could work with someone else already on the team, such as Pollard, to handle the job?
I know many Cowboys fans will groan if Austin is re-signed after two years of low production, including on special teams. But given how bad the ST units were as a whole under the previous coach, was Tavon's performance more a symptom than a cause?
Depending on what happens in the upcoming draft, and especially how John Fassel feels about him, Tavon Austin just might be more valuable to the Cowboys in 2020 than you think.