One of the great success stories in the history of the Dallas Cowboys ended as awkwardly as possible. Jay Ratliff was a seventh-round draft choice out of Auburn who was selected during the Bill Parcells administration (2005).
He would become an All-Pro nose tackle in the Cowboys’ 3-4 scheme despite playing at a relatively light 305 pounds. Ratliff used his unique quickness and strength to beat much larger centers and guards. The Cowboys rewarded him with a lucrative long-term contract in Sept. 2011 that included $18 million in guaranteed money. It made at least a little sense at the time based on Ratliff’s value to the team, but it will go down as another colossal mistake by Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones. He basically tried to buy a player’s happiness instead of keeping him in a team friendly situation. The New York Giants, winners of two Super Bowls over the past six seasons, aren’t afraid to let players see the end of their contracts. But Jerry likes to pass out lifetime achievement awards even when players are on the wrong side of 30.
Ratliff began his career as an affable presence in the locker room who eventually became one of the most beloved players on the defense. But as his production faded, he took on a different personality. He stopped talking to the media altogether and seemed to think that everyone was against him.
Ratliff only played six games in 2012 before undergoing season-ending sports hernia surgery. His longtime agent, Mark Slough, told reporters Wednesday that Ratliff’s injury was much more serious than that. He said his client tore tendons that attached from his pelvis to the inside of his leg and from the abdomen to the pelvis. He acknowledged that Ratliff had a “strained” relationship with the Cowboys’ team doctors. I don’t know why, though, both sides couldn’t work through this situation. Jones stood by Ratliff even after the player threatened to fight him after a game last season.
The Cowboys didn’t select a defensive tackle in the draft last April, in part because they thought Ratliff would be ready for the season. None of that makes any sense to me. If Ratliff had this severe injury that takes most players a year to recover from, why were the Cowboys counting on him? It’s obvious the Cowboys felt like the injury was far less severe.
Ratliff will count $6.9 million in dead money in 2014. That’s money the Cowboys could’ve used to find a suitable replacement had they not given him such a lucrative contract. I don’t fault Ratliff or his agent for landing such an exceptional contract. It’s not like Jones was in a position where he had to make an offer. But Jerry should’ve cut ties right after Ratliff was arrested for drunken driving only six weeks after his backup at nose tackle, Josh Brent, was charged with intoxication manslaughter. The Cowboys were fully in their rights to cut him for football reasons, as well as taking a stand against dangerous and irresponsible behavior. But Jerry’s always had a saying about not letting his money get mad. He felt like Ratliff could excel in a 4-3 scheme, so he decided to give him a second chance. Ratliff responded by basically thumbing his nose at the organization.
A league source explained to me late Wednesday that Ratliff had a minor adductor strain and a possible abdominal issue that was surgically repaired by Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia. Meyers has performed similar surgeries on Eagles players over the years. The Cowboys were unaware of the injuries that were described by Slough, according to the source. The Cowboys’ medical staff hasn’t treated or rehabbed Ratliff following surgery, which might explain why everyone’s not on the same page.
Now, a player who experienced remarkable success with the Cowboys will try to continue his career elsewhere. Here’s a portion of the statement he released through his agent:
“First let me say thank you to the Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones for taking a chance on me in 2005,” said Ratliff. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Cowboys and it was always my desire to begin and end my career here in Dallas. But I understand this business and now it’s time to move on, turn the page and begin again. To all my teammates, I want to wish them nothing but the best. Stay strong, keep fighting and always believe. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you, but I will always support you and value our time together.”
Ratliff also thanked Cowboys fans for supporting him. Maybe history will be good to Ratliff’s career in Dallas. But as of Tuesday, his departure is probably good for everyone.