Young WRs make Austin an afterthought

PHILADELPHIA -- Terrance Williams stopped in the middle of the end zone and waved to the not-so-friendly folks in the Lincoln Financial Field stands.

Williams was sarcastically bidding farewell to the Philadelphia Eagles’ comeback hopes after his 9-yard touchdown catch stretched the Dallas Cowboys’ lead to 17-3 in the fourth quarter, a margin that ended up being the final score in the fight for first place in the NFC East.

The rookie receiver might as well have been bidding farewell to Miles Austin playing a major role in the Cowboys’ offense.

Austin has become the NFL’s most expensive afterthought, and that’s fine for now. Austin’s $54 million contract is an issue for the front office to deal with during the offseason -- when he should either take a drastic pay cut or be released -- but it’s only a problem for the remainder of the year if the coaches feel forced to give him playing time over more deserving candidates.

There’s no question that Williams and Cole Beasley are better options than Austin, although you won’t get anyone who reports to work at Valley Ranch to say that on the record.

These numbers don’t lie:

• Williams has 19 catches for 320 yards and three touchdowns since Austin’s last reception, which occurred in Week 3. That includes Sunday’s six-catch, 71-yard, one-score outing, the third straight game that the third-round pick has scored.

• Beasley has 17 catches for 160 yards and a score since Austin’s last reception. That includes career highs of six catches and 53 yards on Sunday.

• Quarterback Tony Romo is 24-of-28 for 380 yards and three touchdowns when targeting Williams. He’s 18-of-21 for 167 yards and one score when targeting Beasley this season. And he’s 15-of-28 for 125 yards and no scores when targeting Austin, including 0-of-7 the past two weeks with Austin hampered by yet another hamstring strain.

Look at how the Cowboys finished the drive that essentially served as the knockout punch of the Eagles. On second-and-10 from the Philadelphia 22, Beasley made a beautiful catch on an out route for an 8-yard gain. The Cowboys moved the chains with a quick out to Beasley for 5 yards the next play, followed by Williams’ score.

Any questions about Romo’s trust in the kid receivers?

“It just comes over time of making plays in the game when he does throw the ball to me and taking advantage of it,” Beasley said. “As he keeps throwing the ball my way and I keep catching it, more and more trust is going to build. Then more and more balls will come my way.”

Those ought to come at Austin’s expense.

It’s painfully apparent Williams is a better outside receiver at this point than Austin. Williams has the ability to separate from defensive backs that Austin has lost in the last few years. He’s a much more dynamic downfield playmaker.

Williams had some rookie moments early in the season, but he’s more than made up for them, established himself as a reliable weapon.

“Terrance Williams has improved as much as maybe anybody that I've seen in the six months he's been here,” Romo said. “It usually takes wide receivers a while. He continually takes coaching and does the thing you need to do to improve. It's just a testament to his work ethic and commitment to the football team. You love having guys like that.”

Added owner and general manager Jerry Jones: “He’s going to be a long-term, big-time player for us.”

It’s just as obvious that Beasley, the lil’ fella from Little Elm, is a better option than Austin in the slot. Beasley is the prototypical itty-bitty, shifty, sure-handed slot receiver, a poor man’s Wes Welker.

“Beasley showed everyone that he’s got great hands, he separates and he has instincts about getting open,” Jones said. “That’s a major plus for Romo. Romo is big into that.”

The Cowboys have outstanding complements to No. 1 receiver Dez Bryant and perennial Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, and they come at a fraction of Austin’s cost.

Of course, the GM isn’t going to publicly give up on his $54 million investment, even though Jones’ dreaded “progress stopper” label seems to fit Austin well now. Nope, Jones still talks about banking on big things from Austin once that tricky hamstring is nursed back to full health.

“If a player’s been a blue, then it’s not a bad bet on them being a blue -- blue being the highest color on the grading on the player,” Jones said. “It’s not a bad bet.”

It sure was a bad bet on Jay Ratliff, the high-priced, past-his-prime nose tackle unceremoniously dumped by Dallas this week. It certainly seems like the end for Austin is nearing as well.

The good news is that, unlike Ratliff, the replacements for Austin are already on the roster.