All Things Being Equal … Or Are They?

Who knew Jerry Jones could juggle? Dallas owner Jerry Jones has, over the years, absorbed his share of criticism for his tendency to do so many things publicly, including negotiation of contracts (remember how good the team looked when Emmitt Smith held out for a couple of games?)

Nobody is comparing Miles Austin to the most prolific rusher in NFL history, but Jones and his front office deserve top marks for the way they handled the negotiation of the six-year, $54 million deal Austin signed Thursday.

Austin's new deal makes the Cowboys' best receiver one of the highest-paid receivers in the league. At $9 million per season, his average salary places Austin on the list of the highest-paid players at his position in the NFL, just behind the likes of Houston's Andre Johnson, Miami's Brandon Marshall and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald.

Jones doesn't consider moves solely from his position as owner. He also understands marketing as well as any owner in sports, and knows that his players are more than mere thoroughbreds who can run and throw and catch and tackle — they also are salesmen, who can sell tickets and hats and shirts and concessions and parking and personal seat licenses and ...

But in the case of the Austin contract, Jones approached the negotiations at least partially from the perspective of psychologist. Salaries and competitive streaks and muscles aren't the only things most athletes have that are huge — most also have huge egos, and Jones knows that an athlete's sense of competition and ego both usually come into play when contracts are discussed. Players and their agents are aware of what other players who play their positions make, and they are aware of each similarly paid player's age, history of production, potential for future performance, etc.

In Jones's case, the important comparison for Austin is in the same locker room: Roy Williams. Jones gave up three draft choices to pry Williams away from the Detroit Lions and then rewarded his new receiver with a five-year, $45 million contract, giving him the same average salary Austin just got. At 26, Austin is a couple of years younger than Williams, so theoretically, Williams might merit more money. On the other hand, Williams was a first-round draft choice, while Austin reached the NFL as an undrafted free agent, so Williams started at a much higher salary.

In addition to age, here are the numbers that matter:

• Austin caught 81 passes last season for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns.

• Williams caught 38 passes — his highest total in three seasons — for 596 yards and seven touchdowns.

Austin is younger, more productive, stronger and faster. He also, by most accounts, is just scratching the surface of his talent, whereas there are questions about how much better the 28-year-old Williams will get.

The often-brash Jones played this one perfectly, relying on discretion to assuage the egos of both players by writing contracts that will pay each player the same average salary. Once the details of Austin's contract come out — how much money is guaranteed, how much is paid up front in the form of a bonus, etc. — the differences in the deals will be revealed.

But by structuring Austin's contract the way he did, neither his oldest veteran receiver and nor his most talented receiver can complain that he is underpaid compared to a teammate at the same position. It remains to be seen how the players produce throughout the life of their contracts, but the financial equality between the two is some of Jones's best work since he bought the team.

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