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It’s old news now that the Cowboys have released receiver Miles Austin. For two seasons, Austin looked like the next coming of Drew Pearson—a free agent receiver with first-round talent. He was a key part of the Cowboys’ playoff season of 2009 following his breakout performance against the Kansas City Chiefs that year.
He was less impressive though still dangerous in 2010. Since that time, he has battled hamstring injuries and has not produced as he did in 2009.
Here are some final stats related to Austin’s time in Dallas:
1. Austin was primarily a kick returner between 2006 and 2008. He averaged 24.1 yards per return on 89 kickoff returns. The biggest moment of his early career occurred in the 2006 playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks, when Austin returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown to give Dallas a 17-13 lead. It marked the only time that Austin ever scored on a kickoff return.
2. Austin caught his first NFL pass on Thanksgiving Day against the Jets on November 22, 2007. He caught a 17-yard pass on the Cowboys’ opening drive. Dallas later scored on that drive en route to a 34-3 blowout win.
3. His first 100-yard game was against the Green Bay Packers in 2008. He caught passes of 63 and 52 yards to gain 115 yards that night.
4. Other than the Green Bay game in 2008, he did not surpass 45 receiving yards in a game until he started against the Kansas City Chiefs on October 11, 2009. The reason he started was an injury suffered by Roy Williams against the Broncos the week before.
5. His 250 receiving yards against the Chiefs in 2009 are the most in franchise history. He broke Bob Hayes’ record of 246 set in 1966.
6. He had less than 45 receiving yards in only eight games between October 11, 2009 and the end of the 2010 season. He had nine games in which he had more than 100 receiving yards.
7. Austin’s success was critical for the Cowboys in 2009. Dallas had released receiver Terrell Owens and needed a playmaker to emerge. Despite starting only nine games, Austin caught as many passes (81) as Owens had in 15 games in 2007, which was Owens’ most productive season in Dallas. Austin finished with 1320 yards and 11 TDs in 2009. Owens had 1355 yards and 15 TDs in 2007.
8. Between 2011 and 2013, Austin had only three 100-yard receiving games.
9. In the three season finales against the Giants, Redskins, and Eagles in 2011, 2012, and 2013, Austin caught a combined total of four receptions for 42 yards.
10. Austin’s last 100-yard game with the Cowboys came on October 28, 2012, when he caught nine passes for 133 yards.
11. His last touchdown reception as a Cowboy occurred on December 23, 2012 against the New Orleans Saints.
12. Austin caught his last pass as a Cowboy in the fourth quarter of the season finale against the Eagles. The 16-yard pass from Kyle Orton to Austin gave the Cowboys a first down at the Philadelphia 49 with the Cowboys training 17-16. The Cowboys turned the ball over on downs, however.
13. Austin finishes his career in Dallas ranked ninth in receptions. Thanks to his two receptions against the Eagles in his final game as a Cowboy, he surpassed former tight end Doug Cosbie on the team’s reception list (301 for Austin, 300 for Cosbie).
14. Austin ranks seventh in receiving yards but is just 377 yards ahead of Dez Bryant.
15. Austin ranks tenth in TD receptions with 34. Bryant already has 40.
I am trying a new feature during mid-week. It’s called What-If Wednesday. We will review some event (draft, game, or whatever) and consider what might have happened if history had been different. This week’s post focuses on receiver Miles Austin.
In real life…
Between 2006 and week 4 of the 2009 season, Austin had a total of 23 receptions for 435 yards and 4 TDs. His biggest play as a professional was a kickoff return for a touchdown in the 2006 playoffs when the Cowboys faced the Seahawks (better known for Tony Romo’s fumble while holding a field-goal attempt).
Although Austin showed some big-play potential, he was never a major weapon. He caught a 42-yard touchdown pass in the season-opener in 2009 but failed to catch a pass two weeks later against the Carolina Panthers.
He got more opportunities to see the field when the 2-2 Cowboys visited the 0-4 Chiefs in week 5 of the 2009 season because of an injury to Roy Williams. The game was nearly a disaster for Dallas, as the Chiefs took a 13-3 lead in the second half. However, Austin caught touchdown passes of 59 and 60 yards in the fourth quarter and in overtime, giving the Cowboys a 26-20 win.
After the bye week in 2009, the Cowboys faced the Falcons, Seahawks, and Eagles. In real life, Austin scored four combined touchdowns in those three games, including the game-winner against the Eagles, and those three wins improved the team’s record to 6-2. The Cowboys wound up with an 11-5 record and won the NFC East. The team beat the Eagles in the playoffs for the Cowboys’ first playoff win since 1996.
What if Austin had not had a breakout game against the Chiefs?
At the time the Chiefs had taken a 13-3 lead, Austin had caught four passes for 71 yards. Until that point, he had never caught more than three passes in a single game. Without his performance in the fourth quarter and in overtime against the Chiefs, the Cowboys would have had to mount a comeback with Patrick Crayton and Sam Hurd. It’s fair to say that the Cowboys likely would have lost and dropped to 2-3.
The bye was the next week after the Chiefs game, and the chances that Jerry Jones would have fired Wade Phillips immediately were substantial. Nobody had forgotten that the Cowboys had missed the playoffs in 2008, and calls for Phillips’ head were loud and clear.
Of course, Jason Garrett was still considered a solid candidate to become a head coach, so what ended up happening in 2010 likely would have happened in 2009.
2. The Cowboys miss the 2009 playoffs.
Without Austin, the Cowboys likely lose one or more of the three games against the Falcons, Seahawks, and Eagles. The Cowboys lost three of their next five after beating the Eagles in the actual season, so the chances that Dallas would finish at 11-5 would have dropped precipitously. And as it turns out, any record below 11-5 in the NFC in 2009 would have eliminated the Cowboys from the playoffs.
3. The Cowboys still take Dez Bryant in the 2010 Draft.
The Cowboys would have had a greater need at receiver in 2010 without Austin as a clear-cut starter. Even with a higher pick, though, the Cowboys would not have had great options in the 2010 draft. The team might have taken Demaryius Thomas (taken at #22 by the Broncos), but there is a better chance the Cowboys still would have taken Dez Bryant.
4. The Cowboys retain Patrick Crayton in 2010.
The Cowboys would had few options if they wanted to pursue a receiver in free agency in 2010. Three of the free agents were former Cowboys in Terrell Owens, Antonio Bryant, and Joey Galloway, and none of them were coming back. The other free-agent names—Derrick Mason, Nate Burleson, Kevin Walter, Arnez Battle, Marty Booker, Chris Chambers, Muhsin Muhammad— were no better.
With Austin as nothing more than a fourth or fifth receiver, the Cowboys would have Roy Williams and Dez Bryant as the starters. Patrick Crayton would be far less expendable, so the chances that the Cowboys would have kept him would have been much greater.
5. Without Austin, the Cowboys would have an even longer playoff drought.
Although injuries slowed Austin in 2011 and 2012, he was a major factor in the team turning the 2009 season around and winning the franchise’s first playoff game since 1996. Without Austin, the Cowboys would have likely missed the playoffs in 2009 and would probably have had the same success (that is, lack of success) since 2010.
In other words, without Austin’s breakout performance, this team could be suffering through a five-year playoff drought, and the gap between playoff wins could be 16 years.
6. Jason Garrett would not still be the coach in 2013.
If the Cowboys’ last playoff game were indeed the 2007 loss to the Giants in the NFC divisional playoffs, it is very difficult to believe that Jason Garrett would survive as head coach between 2009 and 2013. In fact, if the Cowboys had the same fortunes in 2010 without Austin as they had with him, Jones probably would have fired Garrett then and started over.