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The Miles Austin Question

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    On Tuesday, we ran through the Cowboys free agents but, as you surely know, free agency isn't the only mode of player movement. 

    There's the draft, trades and the inevitable culling of salaries from treacherous cap situations around the league. That throws a bunch of other free agents on the market, some of which are big enough names to create options that didn't exist at the start of the offseason. 

    The list of players at risk of losing their jobs this way will start getting filled out after the Super Bowl, but the Cowboys are going to be represented on it. Doug Free can't stay with that salary and the Nate Livings/Mackenzy Bernadeau duo could both wind up looking for work as well. The most intriguing possibility, though, is Miles Austin. 

    Austin is due $6.7 million next season, a number that would probably work if he was the No. 2 receiver on the team. Or, to rephrase that, the No. 2 receiving target. He's number three behind Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, though, and Bryant's ascent this year signals a widening gap in 2013. 

    He wasn't even a particularly good third man in 2012, less efficient and effective than Laurent Robinson was in that role when Austin was hurt in 2011. He works from the slot more, threatens defenses down field less and does less with the balls he does catch than he did in his salad days. 

    On top of all that, he's constantly fighting hamstring injuries that have doubtlessly contributed to his declining contributions. For a team with a need to slash some cap space, Austin's robust number must look pretty good. 

    That's a pretty negative take, which means it is time to mention that all of that is based on a player making $6.7 million. If Austin were making half that, it's a very different discussion. Cutting him would solve the salary part of things, but it would still force the Cowboys to look for a better option at a lower price. 

    Austin at a lower price would be their best option. It allows them flexibility to look for an outside threat or spend the money in more pressing areas while still keeping a player who still has value even if it's less than it once was. Getting Austin to see things that way may not be easy, although there's not much chance Austin's getting that contract from anyone else at this point. 

    That works in the Cowboys' favor, which makes it likely that we'll see the same Austin at a new, low price next year. 

    Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.