Boys could place tender offer on Austin

The Dallas Cowboys did not put a franchise tag on wide receiver Miles Austin by Thursday's deadline.

NFL teams had until midday Thursday to designate their 2010 franchise and transition players.

Dallas has 14 free agents, including 13 restricted free agents. That includes Austin, who made his first visit to the Pro Bowl after leading the Cowboys with 81 receptions for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Recently, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he wants to keep Austin long-term. Stephen Jones, the executive vice president, told The Associated Press the team won't franchise Austin.

If the Cowboys had placed a franchise tag on Austin, it would have cost the team $9.5 million.

The next option for the Cowboys is whether to place a tender offer on Austin. Dallas could place the highest tender offer -- a first- and third-round tender -- that would net Austin $3.168 million for the 2010 season.

Another team, however, could offer Austin a contract and give up two picks if the Cowboys decided not to match that offer.

The deadline for signing of offer sheets of restricted free agents is April 15. If the Cowboys want to exercise the right of first refusal to Austin, they have until April 21.

Austin could then sign a long-term contract with the Cowboys. Talks between the parties haven't started.

"I'm optimistic, but I can't talk timing," Stephen Jones said Thursday about signing Austin to a long-term deal. "This is a different environment right now. We don't know what kind of system we're going to be in other than we're going into an uncapped year. It's challenging. You never say never, but you just have no idea right now."

The Cowboys are paying Roy Williams an average of $9 million a season, and he's struggled in two seasons with the club. Austin, meanwhile has emerged as a deep threat and a trusted receiver for quarterback Tony Romo.

Austin had his breakout season in 2009. He replaced an injured Williams (ribs) against the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 11 and set a franchise-record with 10 catches for 250 yards with two touchdowns, including the winner in overtime.

From that point, Austin took over the starting job from Patrick Crayton and produced four more 100-yard plus games. He also had seven catches for 82 yards and one touchdown as the Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Wild-Card Game for the team's first playoff victory since 1996.

Austin said earlier this month he's not worried about his contract and that his agent, David Dunn, would handle it. Dunn did not respond to an email seeking comment.

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