Credit the New York Jets' personnel department for determining in the spring that Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin, who caught only 18 passes in his first two seasons of play in the league, might be poised for a breakout campaign in 2009.
But question the Jets' brass, too, for not making Austin, a restricted free agent at the time, a proposal that would have prompted him to sign an offer sheet with them. If the Jets' offer had been tempting enough to earn Austin's signature, Dallas officials would have been forced to either match it or lose the promising wideout with no compensation.
And consider, just for a moment, how dramatically different the 2009 season might have been for the two franchises if the latter scenario had prevailed.
Austin, 25, has registered a marvelous season for the Cowboys, who are headed to the playoffs thanks in large part to his Pro Bowl performance -- 74 catches for 1,230 yards and 11 touchdowns. In a season in which Roy Williams was projected to supplant the departed Terrell Owens as the No. 1 receiver in Dallas, it's Austin, a fourth-year player, who has become quarterback Tony Romo's lead wideout.
Where would Romo and the Cowboys be without Austin, a tailback-sized receiver with tremendous explosiveness and a big-play mentality? Well, probably not in the postseason. And where might the Jets be with Austin in the lineup? Perhaps not needing a victory over Cincinnati on Sunday to secure a wild-card berth.
Austin, a native of Garfield, N.J., visited with Jets officials in the spring, and it was generally assumed that he would sign an offer sheet with the club. But, for whatever reason, he didn't.
"It's amazing how the fortunes [of the two teams] might differ if the Jets had gotten Austin this year," opined one general manager, whose team also evaluated Austin as a restricted free agent this spring. "History might be a whole lot different, huh?"
Minus Austin, and with Williams having failed to grab the No. 1 role intended for him, the Dallas passing game might have struggled. And with Austin in the lineup for rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, the Jets' first-round draft choice might have enjoyed a steadier campaign.
The Jets, who ended up trading for former Cleveland first-rounder Braylon Edwards to augment a receiver corps that was shaky from the outset, would not have been forced into such a deal. Edwards has played pretty well at times, with 33 catches and a 15.9-yard average with New York. But he often has demonstrated the same inconsistencies that haunted him with the Browns. Meanwhile, the only New York wide receiver with more than 40 catches is six-year veteran Jerricho Cotchery (52 receptions).