Bills Sign 32-Year-Old WR, Punt & Kick Return Specialist: Report

Tavon Austin

Getty Tavon Austin #7 of of the Jacksonville Jaguars warms up during the NFL London 2021 match between Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on October 17, 2021 in London, England.

The Buffalo Bills added to their roster on Thursday, June 2, signing former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Tavon Austin, as reported by NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.

Garafolo tweeted, “The #Bills are signing WR Tavon Austin, according to a source and, well, Austin’s IG. Former eighth overall pick had 24 catches in seven games with the #Jaguars last year.”

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Austin was the No. 8 overall draft pick back in 2013, and in order to snag the West Virginia alum, the St. Louis Rams actually traded up with the Bills. “The Rams sent the No. 16, No. 46, No. 78, and No. 222 pick to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for Austin and the Bills’ third-round pick — No. 71,” NFL Network’s Gregg Rosenthal reported in April 2013. “The Rams had the draft surplus to move in large part because of the picks they acquired in the Robert Griffin III trade.”

In 2018, Austin was traded to the Dallas Cowboys, where he played for two seasons. In 2020, Austin had stints with the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers before signing with the Jaguars for the 2021 NFL season.

The veteran receiver appeared in 13 games (3 starts) with Jaguars last season, catching a total of 24 passes for 213 yards and one touchdown, including rushing for 21 yards on three carries, per Pro Football Reference.

Austin Has Carved Out a Role as a Punt & Kick Returner

Throughout his eight-year professional career, Austin has recorded 172 punt returns and 25 kick returns, so it’s a wonder how or if the Bills will use the receiver heading into the 2022 NFL season.

As it stands, the Bills have both Marquez Stevenson and Isaiah McKenzie as possible return specialists. On March 13, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted, “The #Bills and WR Isaiah McKenzie have agreed to terms on a 2-year deal worth a total of $8M, source said.”

During the 2021 NFL season, McKenzie recorded 20 catches for 178 yards, one touchdown, and 6.8 yards per target. While head coach Sean McDermott appeared to lose confidence in McKenzie as a punt returner and was relegated to the bench for part of the season, as a replacement player, he also recorded nine rushes for 47 yards and another touchdown.

Marquez Stevenson’s Job Could Be in Danger

Worry over Marquez “Speedy” Stevenson‘s role for the upcoming season started after the Bills traded up to select return specialist Khalil Shakir with their 148th pick during the 2022 NFL Draft. Austin joining the roster the Houston alum another hurdle to securing a spot on the 53-man roster.

Stevenson, who signed a four-year rookie contract with the Bills in May 2021, spent the bulk of last season on injured reserve. Losing the team’s sixth-round before the season even started was a tough blow for the Bills. During preseason, in addition to suffering a head injury, he was also dealing with a lingering ankle/foot injury.

USA Today’s Nick Wojton wrote of the young receiver after the 2022 NFL Draft, “So far Stevenson has only really had a chance to return kicks in his short career. In 2021, he flipped in and out of the lineup in the role with Isaiah McKenzie.

“McKenzie proves a presence on offense, so even with the addition of Khalil Shakir in Round 5, McKenzie has a path to the Bills’ roster. However, because Shakir can also return kicks, that’ll give Stevenson another obstacle to making the team.”

In five game appearances last season, Stevenson returned 14 punts for a 9.4-yard average and returned seven kicks for a 23.6-yard average, per Pro Football Reference.

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