But on Saturday, speaking to a small group of reporters on his luxurious, new Cowboys at the scouting combine, owner Jerry Jones made it appear Austin won’t be going anywhere, at least not now.
“I think Miles is certainly very much in our plans. Right now, for the Cowboys, he’s in our plans,” Jones said. “When you look at the risk of him coming back and having a season less impaired by injury, that’s much higher odds than us getting a free agent or drafting a rookie out here than can do what he can do.”
Austin played in all 16 games last year, but wasn’t 100 percent. He missed the end of both Redskins games, and fought through nagging injuries that occurred all the way back in training camp and forced him to miss all four preseason games. In 2011, Austin missed six games because of two separate hamstring injuries.
“Now he’s had two disappointing years relative to fighting some limitations. But I think he’s a safe bet,” Jones said of Austin. “Now to the end that we can get any of our players to help us get under the salary cap, which is another way of saying to help us get room right now, to win now, we’ll be trying to do that.”
Austin is scheduled to count $8.32 million against the cap this season, including a $6.73 million base salary. When Jones refers to players helping them gain some room, it typically results in a lowered base salary which is converted into a signing bonus that is spread out of the remainder of the contract, which expires in 2016. The Cowboys find a way to save about $4-5 million off the cap by restructuring his deal.
Despite the injuries last year, Austin still caught 66 passes for 943 yards and six touchdowns. An ankle injury in the final game of the season prevented him from a 1,000-yard season that would’ve made the Cowboys the seventh team in NFL history to have three 1,000-yard receivers in one season.
Jones said the fact that Austin is 28, has two 1,000-yard seasons and two Pro Bowl selections under his belt, is a sign that upside remains.
“He’s a young guy. He’s 28,” Jones said. “My point is, when I look at the odds of his ability to cope with, deal with any limitations he’s had, it’s as good as any odds as we’ve got of looking at any other receiver that has issues. I see Miles has very much a part of our team.”