Rams trade WR Austin to Cowboys for pick

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FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys continued to remake their wide receiver group by trading for Tavon Austin and sending one of their two sixth-round draft picks, No. 192 overall, to the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday.

Austin was the eighth overall pick in the 2013 draft but had just 13 catches for 47 yards and no touchdowns in 2017. He made a bigger impact in the running game, with 59 carries for 270 yards and a touchdown. For his career, he has 194 catches for 1,689 yards and 184 carries for 1,238 yards. He has touchdowns through the air (12), ground (9) and as a returner (3).

Dallas also traded wide receiver Ryan Switzer to the Oakland Raiders for defensive tackle Jihad Ward.

On Friday, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones hinted at adding another receiver after selecting Michael Gallup in the third round. Before releasing Dez Bryant, the franchise leader in touchdown catches, the Cowboys added Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson in free agency.

The Cowboys have Terrance Williams, who is recovering from foot surgery, Cole Beasley and Noah Brown returning to the roster.

“I’m not so sure it’s over with yet in terms of what our options are to put the best receiver corps on the field for us when we open up opening day,” Jones said Friday. “So I don’t want to sit here and preclude or close any door of adding any way to help our receiver corps or help our offense.”

Austin shared his excitement on Twitter.

“I definitely didn’t see this coming at all, but it’s the business side of football and the NFL,” Austin said on a conference call. “I’m definitely appreciative of my opportunities that I have and I’m just glad it’s the Dallas Cowboys.”

Austin said Rams coach Sean McVay broke the news of the trade to him, which he appreciated, but he was much happier after his conversation with Jones.

“Lot of weight off my shoulders, him speaking to me that I get to come play for America’s best team,” Austin said. “It had always been a dream. It felt good he spoke on me, telling me how much he wanted me. I’m going to have every effort in me week in and week out just to hold up on my end.”

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said the Rams approached the Cowboys on the opening night of the draft about a trade for Austin. The Cowboys spent time evaluating how Austin could fit in their scheme and determined he could be a “web back,” who can play multiple roles.

“One of the issues for him has been his size and how you use him in the NFL and we probably see him as a guy who can be versatile for us,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Stephen referenced a web back, a dynamic, mismatch running back out of the backfield, but obviously he played the slot, he’s a returner. So what you try to do is you try to get the ball in his hands a number of different ways … We felt like he could add some explosiveness to our offense.”

Austin’s role could be similar to the one he had with the Rams as a space player. The Cowboys were interested in NC State running back Nyheim Hines and Southern Miss running back Ito Smith in similar roles, but they were selected before Dallas picked in the fourth round. The Cowboys also recently worked out running back Lance Dunbar, who was with the Rams last season after a five-year run with the Cowboys.

The Cowboys wanted to add speed to their offense in 2018 and nearly signed Sammy Watkins at the start of free agency, but he opted to join the Kansas City Chiefs on a three-year, $48 million contract.

Austin gives the Cowboys another option to spread the field while still maintaining running back Ezekiel Elliott as the focal part of their offense.

He also plays into the Cowboys’ desire to have a “wide receiver by committee” approach after Bryant’s release. For years, Bryant was the focal point of the passing game. Before that, the Cowboys had Terrell Owens in a similar role.

“I just want the ball in my hand, to be honest,” Austin said. “Get me in some space. That’s the main thing for me. Get the ball in some space and let me do what I do best and just create with the God-given ability that he gave me.”

“I think that you can estimate that there are 10 No. 1 receivers in this league, and 22 others get it done in another way,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “I think Jerry said it a week ago: We have come to grips that we are not going to have a quote, unquote, No. 1 wide receiver, a la Julio [Jones], a la A.J. Green, a la Antonio Brown. We’re just not going to get it done that way.”

Austin is one of the fastest players in the league but stands only 5-foot-8 and was never able to find a clear fit in the Rams’ receiving corps. He was used mostly as a punt returner and gadget receiver under former coach Jeff Fisher during his first four seasons. Under McVay the past two years, his role has been diminished significantly by the subsequent acquisition of vertical receivers.

The Rams went into last season hoping that Austin could establish himself as a vertical threat in McVay’s offense, but that all changed when the team acquired Watkins from the Buffalo Bills late in the summer. Early in that season, Austin lost his job as a punt returner to Pharoh Cooper, who went on to make the Pro Bowl. The Rams ultimately used him as a decoy in their backfield to help Todd Gurley find holes, but that role diminished as well.

Austin said wrist surgery last spring and a torn hamstring suffered early in training camp affected his performance in 2017. He said the wrist is close to 100 percent and the hamstring is fine.

The Rams had signed Austin to a four-year, $42 million extension in August 2016, a deal that didn’t offer any guaranteed money after the 2018 season, and he entered this season without a role. After Watkins joined the Chiefs as a free agent, the Rams surprisingly restructured Austin’s contract, turning it into a one-year, $5 million deal with another $3 million available through incentives. But then the Rams traded for former New England Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks, once again lessening Austin’s role on the team.

Trading Austin to the Cowboys will save the Rams $1 million in salary-cap space, which the Rams could use to sign draft picks and add depth.

Rams general manager Les Snead called Austin “one of my favorite human beings on the planet” and appreciated the way he handled a limited role this past season.

“He’s the epitome of class,” McVay added. “I wish him nothing but the best. And I know he’ll do great things for the Cowboys. There’s a special place for Tavon. Those decisions are never easy. But what a class act, what an impressive human being, most importantly. Lot of respect and appreciation for Tavon.”

ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez contributed to this report.

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