After catching 10 passes for 72 yards in the season opener against the New York Giants, the 29-year-old has just five catches in the last six weeks and has been shut out in back-to-back games.
Rookie third-round pick Terrance Williams has now completely replaced him from a production standpoint, and second-year wideout Cole Beasley has proven to be a reliable schematic replacement in the slot.
|Tony Romo, 2013|
|Throws to Williams/Beasley||86%||11.2||4|
|Throws to Austin||58%||4.8||0|
|Pro Football Focus|
We talked about the emergence of those two on Saturday, and we got more proof that they're ready to step in for Austin on Sunday. Williams caught a touchdown pass for the third straight week, while Beasley had a season-high six catches in Dallas' 17-3 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
These guys are half a decade younger, more durable and a hell of a lot cheaper.
That last factor, though, will likely be what prevents the Cowboys from unloading Austin before next Tuesday's NFL trade deadline. See, while he's back from a hamstring injury that cost him two games earlier this season, Austin's stock has probably never been lower, and his price tag is still exceptionally high.
|Miles Austin since 2009|
|Pro Football Reference|
After restructuring his contract this past offseason, Austin has nearly $6 million worth of guaranteed money prorated over the next three years. Combine that with his original signing bonus and a trade would put the Cowboys on the hook for more dead money than they can afford right now.
Nobody wants to trade for a guy with a contract like that, and the Cowboys themselves don't have the cap space to be able to swallow the accelerated bonus money that would come due as a result of a trade or release.
|Avg. annual salary||Contract terms|
|1. Tony Romo||$17.1 million||Seven years, $120 million|
|2. DeMarcus Ware||$11.1 million||Seven years, $78 million|
|3. Anthony Spencer||$10.6 million||One-year franchise tag|
|4. Brandon Carr||$10.0 million||Five years, $50 million|
|5. Miles Austin||$7.7 million||Seven years, $54 million|
|6. Jason Witten||$7.2 million||Seven years, $51 million|
|7. Sean Lee||$7.0 million||Six years, $42 million|
So they might be stuck with him, which is a shame when you consider that he'd probably be a solid commodity without that cumbersome contract. That's the rub, though, because the primary reason the Cowboys should look to trade him is also what makes him rather untradeable.
It's also a shame because there's been talk—refuted by owner Jerry Jones—that the team could be in the market for a running back to help shore up the backfield. DeMarco Murray's health is yet again an issue, and there aren't many options beyond that on the depth chart right now.
This is also an organization that, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, is slated to be a league-high $31 million over the salary cap at the start of the 2014 offseason. Dumping Austin now would save them cash in the future, but the Cowboys might not be able to clear enough current space to bite the bullet.
Instead, the only option might be to save some base-salary money while benefiting from the ability to spread bonus money out by cutting Austin after June 1. My best guess now is that's exactly what happens next summer.
But if there's any way at all to get rid of him earlier than that, the Cowboys have to pull the trigger. Because with Jay Ratliff gone, you're looking at the most burdensome contract on the team.