This is the seventh in a series of scouting reports on 15 key players who are slated to become free agents — restricted or unrestricted — March 5, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.
News: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has said that WR Miles Austin, who had one of the more unlikely breakout seasons in franchise history last season, isn't going anywhere. But the Cowboys will not use the franchise tag, they say; instead, expect them to tender Austin at the highest level, which would allow them to sign him for one year at a base salary of $3.168 million or net the team first- and third-round picks in return if they choose not to match another team's offer sheet. There had been rumors that the Dolphins, given Bill Parcells' ties to Austin from his Dallas days, might look to make an offer to the restricted free-agent receiver. But that doesn't appear likely, and no team is going to feel completely comfortable giving major dollars to a receiver with one year of production. Jones has stated clearly he'd like to sign Austin to a long-term contract, but that might not occur until a year from now.
Notes: Austin's 10-catch, 250-yard breakout in Week Five arrived after he came off the bench the first four games of the season. In the final 12 games, he averaged a whopping 103.3 yards per game and scored 10 of his 11 TDs. Austin finished among the NFL's top 15 in receptions, yards and yards per reception, clearly moving past Roy Williams as the Cowboys' top wideout. The relationship between Austin and QB Tony Romo grew quickly once Austin earned a starting spot, and the two remained a strong combo even when defenses knew the ball was coming his way. At 25 (he turns 26 this summer), Austin stands as one of the more intriguing young receivers in the NFL.
Positives: Austin has great size and length, and he runs exceptionally well for a wideout his size. He has perfected his route running and recognition of what defensive backs are trying to do to him, going from being a great athlete to a great receiver. Austin glides when running and can shift gears easily. He's most dangerous after the reception, able to break tackles and do damage downfield.
Negatives: For his height, Austin hasn't yet mastered some of the "bigger-receiver routes" such as fades. He can use his body better to wall off defenders and high-point the ball. Austin is still developing as a receiver, and he can get held down by top man corners (see Green Bay and first Philadelphia games) with safety help. Although he was great last season, teams now will be aware of Austin and will defend him accordingly.
Risk factor: Moderate. Giving a long-term deal to a player with one year's worth of production is a scary thought, so the Cowboys are likely to see how Austin performs this season as the go-to guy throughout. That's assuming no team makes a big offer to the RFA, but it's assumed that the compensation remains too high, even for a player of Austin's ability.
Thursday: Bills WR Terrell Owens
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