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Cowboys won’t franchise Austin

On Tuesday, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that receiver Miles Austin won’t be leaving Dallas.

On Wednesday, Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones told Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the franchise tag won’t be applied to Austin to ensure that he stays put.

We don’t need to use the franchise tag,” Stephen Jones said. “How many times have [you] seen another team give up a one and a three?” (As a reader points out, didn’t the Cowboys give up a one and a three and a five for Roy Williams?)

But Stephen Jones is overlooking the point we made earlier today, echoing Howard Balzer’s assessment of the NFL calendar leading up to the uncapped year. If the Cowboys don’t apply the franchise tag to Austin by February 25 and if a new CBA is finalized before March 5 and if the new CBA sets the minimum years of service for unrestricted free agency from six years back to four, Austin will hit the open market.

Besides, even though the highest RFA tender will cost the Cowboys more than $6 million less than the franchise tag, it can’t be assumed that a receiver-needy team picking at the bottom of round one (e.g., the Ravens) wouldn’t decide to devote that low first-round pick and a low third-round pick on a guy who has shown that he can be a dominant receiver.

Throw in a Hutchinson-Burleson poison pill that makes the full amount of a six-year, $53.999 million contract guaranteed if Austin plays more than five games in any year in the state of Texas or if at any moment he doesn’t have the highest annual average compensation for any receiver on the team, and the Cowboys would have a hard time matching the deal.

So if the Cowboys are serious about keeping Austin, there are only two ways to make it close to a sure thing -- use the franchise tag, or sign him to a long-term deal.