Miles Austin's future is cloudy

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin's playing status is always in a tenuous state.

He currently has a balky hamstring that's limiting his playing time -- an injury that has always bothered him since he signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent from Monmouth University in 2006.

And it's these hamstring injuries that's placed his future in doubt. The Cowboys are not going to release or trade Austin this season. But next year, if he's a post-June 1 cut, the Cowboys save $5 million. It's projected the Cowboys will be over the salary cap a league-high $31 million next year. So if the team can get rookie receiver Terrance Williams to continue his progression from backup to starter, it places Austin's status in serious doubt for 2014 given the state of the salary cap.

Coach Jason Garrett likes to say Austin is still that free-agent kid from Monmouth University trying to prove himself.

Austin's proven he belongs in the NFL, it's just that over the last three seasons his time away from the field has become a topic of conversation.

Austin has 15 catches for 125 yards and no touchdowns this season. He's missed two games because of his hamstring injuries and played two games where he didn't have a single catch. He should play in Sunday's game at Detroit, but how effective he'll be is uncertain.

The Cowboys hinted Austin could sit for a few weeks so his body could heal and they could have him for a stretch run to the postseason. Garrett said Austin wants to play and is still passionate about his craft.

But you can't help but look on the depth chart and notice the performances of Cole Beasley and Williams with Austin's absences and inability to make plays due to his leg.

"Miles is a great competitor, he loves to play football and he loves to practice football and he loves to be as good as he could be and works very hard at it," Garrett said Friday when asked about Austin. "The biggest thing he has to do and we have to do is focus on getting him healthy."

In the last three seasons, Austin missed eight games, had four games where he finished with zero catches and produced three 100-yards or more contests.

Is this what you want from a $57 million receiver?

In 2012, Austin finished with 943 yards and six touchdowns. In 2011, Austin's hamstring bothered him again where he amassed 579 receiving yards in 10 games. The 1,000-yard receiver who took the NFL by storm in 2009 might never return for the Cowboys given his health and the emergence of Williams and Beasley.

"You can't worry about what people say," Garrett said. "It's Line 1 in life: You got to do what you need to do and Miles has to get himself healthy and when he gets himself healthy, he’s a damn good football player."