Commentary

Cowboys pay for Miles Austin's prime

Receiver's character, production distinguish him from Terrell Owens, Roy Williams

Updated: September 10, 2010, 9:39 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- It's just not a Jerry Jones news conference unless he makes at least one comment that causes some head-scratching.

"I've never felt like, when we have made this kind of a commitment to any individual, that we've ever been better prepared or better informed about what he is as a player and person," Jones said Thursday while announcing receiver Miles Austin's six-year, $54 million contract extension.

That's a mouthful about a man who doesn't have a full season of starting experience. Austin's first catch of the season will be only the 100th of his career.

Frankly, the Cowboys were much better informed about the player the last time they announced a lucrative extension. After all, outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware had been to three consecutive Pro Bowls and was well on his way to another.

But let's not get too caught up in Jerryspeak semantics. The Cowboys made a wise move to lock up Austin, ensuring that the 26-year-old will spend his prime with a star on his helmet.

The Cowboys paid for Austin's production last season, when he led the NFC in receiving yards (1,320) and finished fourth in the NFL in receiving touchdowns (11) despite not starting until Week 5, and the promise that the breakout campaign was a sign of things to come. The Cowboys' decision-makers are comfortable with that belief because of Austin's character.

"Everything he's about would point to that he's not a one-year wonder," executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "Whether it be his work ethic, whether it be that he's off the field a great person, a great leader.

"He's the anti-wide receiver. He's the anti-diva that you normally see with receivers. He's just not that type of guy. He's a hard worker, so you put that and then you actually see what goes on the field.

"We've got all the confidence in the world that he's going to perform year in and year out."

That's clear by the contract. The Cowboys paid the market price for a premier wide receiver.

Of course, that's the third time the Cowboys have paid a receiver that kind of money in recent seasons. They didn't get much bang for their buck on the previous two deals.

But Austin is a much different case than Terrell Owens and Roy Williams.

T.O. had a history of being a team-wrecking prima donna. That's what ended up happening at Valley Ranch, where he basically declared war on Tony Romo and Jason Garrett, causing Stephen Jones to sensibly convince his father that the Cowboys would be better off without that drama.

Williams hadn't played a down for the Cowboys when he signed his five-year, $45 million extension days after arriving from Detroit in a blockbuster trade. The Cowboys were banking that a change of scenery would help Williams become the star they projected while scouting him at Texas before he was the seventh overall pick in the 2004 draft. They were wrong, as Williams has underachieved even more in Dallas than he did in Detroit.

Austin has proved he can perform at a Pro Bowl level in this scheme and with this quarterback. He's never come close to creating any controversy.

The only reason there is even a question about whether the Cowboys should have made this kind of financial commitment is because Austin hasn't had sustained success.

"Yeah, he's only done it one year, but what a year," coach Wade Phillips said. "It's not like the guy had a good year. He had a tremendous year and he had tremendous games that nobody's had before."

Are the Cowboys taking a chance on Austin? Of course, but it's a calculated risk.

They know Austin has the size, the speed and the skills to continue his ascent to superstardom. And they're certain the former undrafted free agent has the character to continue climbing. Austin proved that with the way he worked during training camp, when other receivers in his contractual situation might have held out or mailed it in.

"He's what we want to build our franchise around," Jerry Jones said.

That makes perfect sense.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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