The Los Angeles Rams decided to fork over some big money to one of their young wide receivers this offseason. Unfortunately, they may have paid the wrong guy. After the Rams gave Austin a four-year, $42 million extension this offseason, per Conor Orr of NFL.com, it was expected that he’d be the focal point of the team’s offense. While that hasn’t exactly been the case (not that they haven’t tried), what makes things even worse is that another receiver has stepped up in a big way to start the 2016 season.
After a 2015 season in which Austin totaled 907 yards from scrimmage (473 receiving, 434 rushing) and nine total touchdowns, head coach Jeff Fisher stated the following about the extension:
“Tavon has been an integral part of our offense and special teams since we drafted him in 2013,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said in a statement. “It is important to our organization to retain players we’ve drafted and invested in, and Tavon is an example of that. We’re excited for him to continue his career with the Rams.”
This contract keeps the 25-year-old receiver in Los Angeles until he’s 31, while also handing him $30 million in guaranteed money in the process. The question is, if the Rams waited another, say, six games into the 2016 season, would they still be handing out this type of money to Austin? Better yet, would they be more interested in giving it to Kenny Britt instead?
Austin has been essentially force-fed the ball through six games, seeing a team-high 50 targets, but catching just 26 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown. On the flip side, the 28-year-old Britt has caught 30-of-40 targets for 492 yards and two touchdowns. he has nine receptions of 20-plus yards and is averaging 82 yards per game. Without question, Britt has been the most reliable receiver on the Rams roster and is a guy who’s showing serious staying power.
Britt may be older than Austin, but his contract with the Rams is up after the 2016 season, so he’ll hit the free-agent market and should be an interesting name to watch. More importantly, after re-signing Austin, it’s unlikely that the Rams will choose to bring back Britt as well.
Some may argue that the superb start to the season for Britt is one that was hard to see coming, but that’s not really the case. Look back to 2010 when the Rams’ No. 1 receiver was still with the Tennessee Titans, and caught 42 passes for 775 yards and nine touchdowns in just 12 games. Realistically, Britt has only had one “bad” season which wasn’t due to injury, which came during his final year with the Titans when he was on his way out.
Austin may be the more electrifying player of the two, but Britt has the prototypical size, speed and playmaking ability for a No. 1 receiver. The Rams leading pass-catcher through six games stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 223 pounds. He seems to be coming into his own with quarterback Case Keenum also, and we know he and rookie quarterback Jared Goff have a connection as well (thanks to HBO’s Hard Knocks).
It’s understandable that the Rams were paying for potential when it came to Austin, but had they waited, the decision to focus on getting Britt under contract beyond the 2016 season may have become a priority. Now, it’ll be interesting to see what the Rams do this offseason, and whether or not they choose to let Britt test free agency, or offer him a competitive contract to try to keep him in Los Angeles.