<
>

Don't dismiss Miles Austin's value

IRVING, Texas -- The writing is on the wall for Miles Austin, isn't it?

This is Dez Bryant's offense now after a breakout 2012 season. The Cowboys drafted Terrance Williams in the third round in April to be Austin's successor. Austin is making too much money and the Cowboys will have to have cash -- real and the salary-cap kind -- to pay Bryant at some point.

Doesn't everybody see that Austin is always hurt, that he cashed it in after signing his big deal in 2010, that he is not the same guy anymore?

Really?

Dig deeper into what Austin did last year when he caught 66 passes for 943 yards and six touchdowns.

He outperformed the leading wide receivers on 16 other teams in catches, yards or touchdowns, including pass-catchers in Arizona (Larry Fitzgerald), Baltimore (Anquan Boldin), Seattle (Sidney Rice), Washington (Josh Morgan) and Pittsburgh (Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown). Aside from Arizona, there is not a poor quarterback throwing to anyone in that bunch.

In a division with Bryant, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson, Austin had the fourth-most catches and touchdowns and was third in yards. And he put up those numbers on an offense that had Jason Witten set an NFL record for catches in a season by a tight end (110) and Bryant explode for 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns.

"I look at the season not necessarily solely on my stats, because what would change a good season from a bad season? Is it X amount of yards?" Austin said. "I equate a good season and a bad season on how much you win, did I contribute to the team, how much of an impact do you have? It's not always on the field. It's helping guys, showing up on time, being the right guy, doing the right things."

Despite his ever-present smile and seemingly always-happy disposition, Austin understands the game. He is entering his eighth season. He has seen players cut for all kinds of reasons: poor play, too costly, too old, too much of a pain in the butt.

And that's just the receivers he has been around.

"I'm very cognizant of what's happening around me, but at the same time, I realize what my job is," Austin said. "My job is to care for my teammates, do my best for them, myself, my family, the coaches and bring it every day. That's what my job is. If you worry about other things that don't necessarily control your circumstance, then you're wasting energy."

Some players famously use the doubt to drive them. They look for slights, perceived or real, to keep them going.

Austin is not like that.

What drives him today is what drove him when he showed up at Valley Ranch in 2006 as an undrafted free agent from Monmouth.

"I have to make the team," Austin said. "This is my job. I've got to make the team and prove not only to myself but my teammates that I belong here. This is what I'm doing. I have to prove that I deserve this. That's why you've got to go out every day and do it. It's not just what happens during games and during season, but you've got to do it this period of practice, in training camp and then during the season as well."

Oh, it all sounds good, right, but you're still jaded.

It's that money you don't like. Austin was set to count $8.303 million against the cap in 2013 before his deal was restructured in March. The Cowboys added a voidable year to the deal through 2017 to lower the cap hit this year, but it also makes it more costly to cut him next year. Austin is scheduled to make $5.5 million in 2014, which is extremely palatable.

And it's those hamstrings that you keep waiting to pop. Never mind that Austin played in every game last year. He was knocked out of both Washington games with hip and ankle injuries. He missed six games in 2010 with varying hamstring pulls, but he has played every game in three of the past four seasons.

Austin, who turns 29 next month, has altered his offseason approach, spending more time stretching and strengthening his hamstrings. He also has attempted to adjust his running style, getting his feet under his body more so he does not put tremendous strain on the hamstrings.

"They feel good," Austin said.

It seems like forever ago when Austin caught 10 passes for a franchise-record 250 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime win at Kansas City. His back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons seem longer to some. He has only three 100-yard games in the past two seasons.

"There's always a sense of urgency to produce; that's just what this job entails," Austin said. "When you sign up, you know what it is from the beginning."

Maybe the writing is on the wall for Austin, but maybe some people should read it more carefully.