Back in 2009, the Dallas Cowboys took a calculated risk by breaking away from Terrell Owens. Roy Williams was supposed to be the the wide receiver who took over, but it was actually a former undrafted free agent who took the league by storm and delivered 81 receptions for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns. Mind you that he did all of that in only nine starts that season is very impressive, but whenMiles Austin flashed moments of brilliance in 2008 the front office and scouting department felt they may have found their next playmaker.
Austin capitalized on that 2009 performance by receiving a six-year contract extension worth $54 million. Since signing that contract in 2010, his production and health have decreased. Take Pro Football Focus ratings with a grain of salt, but Miles has not come close to replicating his +13.8 grade in 2009. The following year in 2010 he ranked it at -4.5, then +3.4 in 2011 and in 2012 he actually increased his grade up to +8.2.
According to PFF, Austin was the 28th best wide receiver in the league. That's a pretty good ranking and some of the notable names he was above on the list include Anquan Boldin (33rd), Eric Decker (36th), Victor Cruz (41st), Dez Bryant (44th, don't ask me how) and Torrey Smith (45th). Talent-wise, that is a good group to be compared to.
If Miles wasn't bad and he was a productive receiver who made plays, then why does he receive the criticism he does and why are we talking about him potentially not being a member of the Dallas Cowboys next year? Like many things in life, it comes down to dollars-and-cents.
While Dez Bryant has taken over as the primary big-play threat and "number one" receiver, we've seen Miles basically become the number two wideout. Now if he were paid like a number two, then some of the fans and media would back off and give him more credit. But when you are getting paid like the main guy, that can become a unique and troublesome situation. The Cowboys may have to seriously consider their options in 2014.
Thus our beloved Austin finds himself in the crossroads of his career, which CBS Sports writer Joel Corry came to the same conclusion in his recent article of 15 players in similar situations.
Austin hasn't lived up to expectations after signing a seven-year, $57.268 million contract in 2010 as a restricted free agent. He has battled nagging injuries since a stellar 2009 campaign in which he caught 83 passes for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns. Austin missed six games in 2011 with hamstring problems. He played in every game last season but was hampered by hip and ankle issues. Austin has become more of a secondary option with Dez Bryant's emergence and tight end Jason Witten operating as Tony Romo's security blanket. Nonetheless, Austin was one of the NFL's most productive No. 2 wide receivers with 66 catches, 943 yards and six touchdowns. Dallas' perpetual cap problems could make Austin a pay-cut candidate or cap casualty if his productivity declines or the injuries continue.
For those who do not know who Corry is, he is a former sports agent who was one of the founders of Premier Sports & Entertainment, which was a sports management firm. He is very familiar with the topic of players on the hot seat and he spent a lot of his professional career operating in the industry of player management and knows a great deal about the topic.
But as Tom Ryle pointed out the other day in his article, Miles knows better than anyone that you're a few steps away from having a job taken away from you in the NFL. After all, Austin was an undrafted free agent who clawed his way into a starting role. He won't go out without a fight, he's a fierce competitor with athletic ability and it wouldn't be surprising to see a high level of play from him in 2013.
All things considering, he's one of the best number two wide receivers in the league, if not the best. CotySaxman pointed that out brilliantly in his breakdown of how Miles can still get open. There aren't a lot of receivers out there with that type of ability, it's a gift and a skill.
What Austin truly needs to overcome is the injury bug. He's had nagging hamstring injuries the past few years and more than anything else that has held him back and prevented him from giving the Cowboys the 2009 Austin we all love and know. The other day I started off my article on Tyrone Crawford stating that injuries are part of the game, it's just the way it is and that will never change. In a recent article by Jon Machota of SportsDayDFW, the wide receiver admits that injuries are inevitable.
"It’s the nature of the beast," he said. "Sometimes you get injured doing something, sometimes you don’t get injured doing something. At the end of the day, I’m going to continue to work hard and try my best regardless."
It's extremely difficult to root against Miles Austin. He works hard, he gives maximum effort and leaves it all out there on the field. He'll be remembered in a positive light and for his highlight reel material. Terrance Williams was drafted for a reason, so there could come a point where the Cowboys may have to make a business decision. But until Williams is ready, I'd be willing to bet we see #19 for a few more seasons in the blue and silver.