If Miles Austin can't stay on the field and produce in 2012, the Cowboys' $10 million salary cap penalty isn't the reason the team will have to think hard about whether to keep him around.
But, in the wake of Jerry Jones' announcement that the club is done fighting the charge, it's got to be hard for the Cowboys to look back on Austin's extension and feel good about their investment.
The league claims that the $10 million budget reduction comes not from the Cowboys spending over an invisible salary limit in the 2010 uncapped season, but for the way they unnaturally front-loaded Austin's deal. At the time the deal was cut, just days before the 2010 opener, Austin's guaranteed salary was reported at $18 million.
But the club actually designated Austin for a base salary of over $17 million in 2010, leaving him with a restructured signing bonus of just $7.85 million for the life of the deal.
Austin's extension was for six years and $54 million - equalling the average annual value of what then teammate Roy Williams was making at the time. But given the extra spending money the deal will cost the Cowboys this year and next, the entirety of the cap cost is actually six years and $64 million, should he play out the contract.
He has yet to equal his breakout 2009 season, when he caught 81 passes for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns. With Tony Romo injured for most of 2010, Austin caught just 69 balls for 1,041 yards and seven touchdowns, though he made the Pro Bowl as an alternate.
All of last season, Austin battled hamstring problems, which he blamed on personal conditioning, missing six games and catching just 43 passes for 579 yards and seven scores.
For the offense to function at optimum capacity, and the front office to not forever rue the day it inked Austin to that long-term deal, the wide receiver has to stay healthy and produce.