Updates from Wednesday, May 21
A deep 2014 NFL draft at the wide receiver position left some veterans out in the cold, including two-time Pro Bowler Miles Austin. On Thursday, the Cleveland Browns ended Austin's wait to get another shot at proving himself, signing him to an undisclosed deal.
The team announced the news on its Twitter account:
Austin turns 30 in June, and while that threshold is usually the harbinger of doom for running backs in the modern era, it may apply to Austin in this case too. Persistent injuries—mostly to his hamstrings, per KFFL.com—and a lack of production last season have jeopardized Austin's once promising career. The 2014 season in Cleveland is his chance for a fresh start and a potential renaissance on the gridiron.
Austin managed just 24 receptions for 244 yards and zero touchdowns last season, and the Dallas Cowboys announced in March that he would be released after June 1. ESPN.com's Todd Archer reported on that development, noting that it will save the Cowboys $5.5 million against the cap in 2014.
Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com weighed in on the initial lack of interest when Austin hit the open market this offseason:
After Austin went undrafted out of Monmouth University, the Cowboys took a low-risk flier on him and saw him develop into one of the league's premier playmakers for a brief time. The apex of Austin's days with America's Team occurred in 2009 and 2010, when he posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
Receiver has been a priority in recent years for Dallas, though, beginning when owner and general manager Jerry Jones chose Dez Bryant in the first round of the 2010 draft. Even when Austin played all 16 games in 2012, Jones opted for Baylor product Terrance Williams as a third-round pick in the following draft.
Williams appreciated what Austin taught him as a rookie, per The Dallas Morning News' Jon Machota:
The Cowboys then traded up this year to select Devin Street in the fifth round, further bolstering the receiving corps at quarterback Tony Romo's disposal. That seemed to extinguish the possibility Austin could return to the Cowboys at least for camp.
While it had to be tough to digest the release given the high level he's played at in the past, it only gives Austin more incentive and motivation to prove he still has something left in the tank as part of his new organization. With his elite speed when healthy and strong 6'2", 216-pound frame, Austin has enviable physical attributes and previous production to back them up.
Following his rise from small-school obscurity to NFL stardom, which included a lucrative contract for the league's foremost spotlighted franchise, Austin is in a smaller market and once again has to fight for a spot as a viable contributor. The conditions are ripe to make his mark and thrive yet again as the explosive receiver he's proved to be in the past.
For Cleveland, this is a smart move to add insurance after the latest Josh Gordon situation. With Gordon set to miss time and potentially out for the season on suspension, Austin is a valuable presence who has shown he can produce when healthy.
The Browns are solid on defense, especially in the secondary with Joe Haden and rookie Justin Gilbert. With Austin now in the fold, their offense might be able to avoid a letdown in 2014.