The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly cut ties with two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Miles Austin.
Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News broke news of the move on Tuesday in the midst of the free-agency frenzy:
The Dallas Cowboys have also decided to part ways with veteran wide receiver Miles Austin and will designate him as a post-June 1 cut, according to a source.
Releasing Austin saves the Cowboys $5.5 million against the cap, but they don’t get the credit on those savings until after June 1. That money will likely go toward the Cowboys signing their draft picks this year.
The Cowboys confirmed the news on Wednesday (via Lindsay Jones of USA Today):
Rainer Sabin of the The Dallas Morning News reported what owner and general manager Jerry Jones had to say regarding Austin's future with the team on Feb. 18.
"Great career and he has a big cap number, and we have to take a look at it," said Jones.
Not too much intel regarding Austin hit the press from there on—probably because he has faded out of focus in Dallas thanks to some lackluster play and multiple injuries in recent years. Parting ways with him makes sense, but Austin has flashed the talent to be one of the league's premier receivers at his best. Thus, there was some risk associated with letting Austin go, even though he turns 30 in June.
Austin was an undrafted free agent out of Monmouth College in 2006, but his sensational speed and all-around skill set allowed him to develop into a lethal weapon for America's Team. He led the NFC in receiving in 2009 with 1,320 yards and also notched 11 touchdowns that season.
That rise to stardom allowed Austin to cash in on a lucrative long-term contract to the tune of six years and $54 million. That included a base salary of $17 million in the first year, when Austin led the Cowboys in receiving.
Unfortunately for Dallas, Austin's play has dipped, capped off by a 2013 campaign in which he averaged just 10.2 yards per catch on 24 receptions in 11 games.
CBS DFW's Shawn Lealos pointed out how a hamstring injury caused Austin to miss approximately a month of the season, and how he hauled in 10 catches in the season opener but managed only 14 for the remainder of the year.
Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News highlighted the rankings of the Cowboys receivers in a league-wide compilation by Pro Football Focus, which had Austin nowhere near the NFL's best:
With the Cowboys projected to be so far over the salary cap and in need of upgrades and investments in other areas to avoid falling short of the playoffs yet again, there was no room for them to hold onto Austin.
Plus, between star wideout Dez Bryant, veteran tight end Jason Witten, promising youngster Terrance Williams and even Cole Beasley, Dallas has plenty of playmakers.
According to Spotrac.com, Austin would have seen his base salary balloon from $840,000 in 2013 to $5.5 million this coming season. The expense was evidently too much to incur given his inability to stay on the field and produce when he was called upon.
Quarterback Tony Romo, linebacker Sean Lee and cornerback Orlando Scandrick restructured their contracts to help the Cowboys' efforts to get under the salary cap, per Todd Archer of ESPN.com on March 4. That's not even to mention the dilemma regarding star defensive end DeMarcus Ware, which has Dallas in a precarious position entering 2014.
Given the discouraging results of the 2013 season, it's hard to imagine many suitors lining up to sign Austin with any zeal. There is still time for Austin to turn it around, but he won't command near the payday he initially received when he signed his last big contract.
Then again, that provides the opportunity for receiver-thin teams to take a flier on a low-risk, high-reward player with minimal cost who should have a huge chip on his shoulder. With how disappointing the Cowboys have been over the past decade and a half or so, a change of scenery and a more prominent role in a different offense may be what Austin needs to right the sinking ship that is his career.