Saturday, May 15, 2010

Desire strong for Cowboys WR Austin

By Calvin Watkins

When the Dallas Cowboys drafted Dez Bryant in the first round, it seemingly was meant as a wake-up call for Roy Williams and a message to guys like Patrick Crayton, Sam Hurd and Kevin Ogletree.

Sometimes we forget about Miles Austin.

Last year, Austin exploded onto the scene with 81 catches for 1,320 yards -- an average of 82.5 yards per game, which tied for third in the NFL. His 11 touchdowns tied for fourth. He was second with 21 catches of 20 or more yards.

He even was named to the Pro Bowl.

But the business of the NFL prevented Austin from getting to the open market. He remains a restricted free agent, and the Cowboys placed a first- and third-round tender on him, worth $3.168 million. Austin still hasn't signed that tender, and he hasn't given an indication of when he will.

The Cowboys and Austin's agent, David Dunn, have exchanged some numbers on a possible new contract, but not enough for anybody to get the pens out.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the talks, as limited as they've been, have not been tense. Everybody is happy.

However, if a player does not sign by June 1, the original club can extend the qualifying offer and thereby retain exclusive rights to the player.

If the original qualifying offer is greater than 110 percent of the player's 2009 base salary (Austin made $1.545 million last year) and the player does not sign that contract by June 15, the team can reduce the tender to 110 percent of the offer and continue to retain exclusive rights to the player.

If the player does not sign by Week 10, he cannot play in 2010.

Austin wants to be here long-term. However, if the Cowboys don't want him, he will not stop working out.

"Yeah, if that can work out," Austin said about signing long-term. "Like I said, I'm not the one that's in charge of it. Those guys are. Obviously, I want to be here, but they have to make the effort. If I could sign something right now, I would. But they are the ones that have to do that."

The Cowboys want Austin here, and all of this is posturing. Austin didn't show up for close to two weeks after voluntary workouts had started. To get Austin back to Valley Ranch for those workouts, Dunn and the Cowboys agreed to guarantee the tender offer if Austin gets hurt and has to miss the 2010 season.

Quarterback Tony Romo made a call to Austin to get him back. Austin told Hall of Famer Michael Irvin he was only going to stay away for a week and that he wasn't upset at the organization.

The bottom line for Austin: duplicate what he did last season.

It'll be much harder to do that since teams will focus on him more. Yes, the Cowboys have added Bryant, who was praised for his efforts during rookie minicamp. But he's still a rookie.

Williams is tinkering with his game, deciding to change how he comes in and out of breaks by crouching more, to make it harder for defenders to shove him around.

Austin also is trying to improve. He wants to get better in his route running, wants to catch the ball better and learn how to recognize coverages. He also wants to maintain his strong chemistry with Romo.

"To be honest, they can bring in the top receivers in the league and it's not going to change my work ethic or drive," Austin said. "I'm doing my job, and that's all I can focus on. When they bring other people in, it's awesome.

"Hopefully, [Bryant's] great. I've seen his minicamp tape. He looks awesome. He looks great. It's great for the Cowboys and great for me.

"I'm trying to win a championship, that's all I'm focused on."