Today we begin a five-part free-agent series on the Cowboys and what they should be doing at key positions.
First stop is Miles Austin, who is a restricted free agent wide receiver.
Should they keep him? Yes. Austin emerged with 81 catches for team highs of 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. There was a three-game stretch where Austin didn't have a catch in the first half. In that same stretch, he went two games without a catch until the fourth quarter.
Austin did produce down the stretch, with 23 catches for 321 yards in the last three weeks of the season. His speed and ability to break tackles make him a trusted receiver for quarterback Tony Romo. While Roy E. Williams struggled to find chemistry with Romo, Austin developed it, making him the No. 1 wideout on the team. The question is, can he do it again?
What to pay him? The Cowboys did not franchise Austin, which would have cost them $9.5 million. The next option is whether to place a tender offer or work out a long-term deal. Dallas could place the highest tender offer -- a first- and third-round tender -- that would net Austin $3.168 million for the 2010 season.
Another team, however, could offer Austin a contract and give up the two picks if the Cowboys decide not to match it.
The deadline for signing offer sheets for restricted free agents is April 15. If the Cowboys want to exercise the right of first refusal to Austin, they would have until April 21.
Austin could then sign a long-term contract with the Cowboys, but talks between the sides haven't started.
If the 2010 season is uncapped, it could complicate things in terms of what the Cowboys do with Austin.
"It’s all about what is in the best interests of the Cowboys as it relates to that given player," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "That's the way it’s supposed to be. That’s the way we look at it."
Other free agents worth a look at his position: None who interest the Cowboys due to the fact they're trying to take care of Austin long-term and Williams will make just less than $13 million this season. Restricted free agents Braylon Edwards and Brandon Marshall are the top of the class, and Terrell Owens, who is unrestricted, will have a few teams interested.