How should Cowboys handle Ratliff?
NEW ORLEANS — The NFL is a copycat league. That is especially true when it comes to mimicking concepts and styles from Super Bowl teams. So when it comes to how the Dallas Cowboys should handle the troubling circumstances of Jay Ratliff and his DUI … Why not just do what the San Francisco 49ers do?
The outrage is understandable. The Cowboys victimized themselves twice in 42 days with drunken-driving incidents that, in the first case, killed one team member and may have ended the football career of a potential starter, and in the second case contributes to putting in some level of jeopardy the career of Ratliff, a four-time Pro Bowler.
There are demands hooted by the media and fans to “do something” about Ratliff, who was arrested for crashing his pickup truck into an 18-wheeler while under the influence on Jan. 22, less than a month-and-a-half after attending a teammate’s funeral. Fellow defensive lineman Josh Brent was behind the wheel on Dec. 8 when he crashed his car while also under the influence, a intoxication manslaughter case because Cowboys practice-squadder Jerry Brown died in the one-car accident.
Some onlookers are demanding action, action for ethical reasons or action for public-relations reasons … But in every case action that disregards the salary-cap implications and disregards the fact that Ratliff was/is to be counted on as a starting defensive lineman on next season’s team.
So we wade through the legal ramifications and also go through the Cowboys choices here. Those choices? I would characterize them as the three C’s:
1. Cut him.
2. Counsel him.
3. Coddle him.
And why are Options 2 and 3 viable ones? Why is Cowboys player-program-development director Calvin Hill saying, ”The critical goal is to effect the decision making process in the hours before the wrong decision is made” – which hardly sounds like a football death sentence is about to be handed down at Valley Ranch? Hill said. And why are those kinder-and-gentler options especially pertinent this week as Cowboys followers ponder how their team could might ever be assembled in a way that mirrors the class-of-the-NFC 49ers?
Because “kinder-and-gentler” seems to be the 49ers handle their DUIs.
Counsel. Or even coddle. But never cut.
Backup linebacker Clark Haggans, a former standout in Pittsburgh and Arizona, had a DWI in 2011. It is the second one of his NFL career. Not only did the 49ers continue to pay him and employee him, they actually signed him to a contract in September 2011 season after knowing that he had the DWI. In other words, not only did they not take Option 1 and cut Haggans, they signed him with the knowledge of his crime. They did so because the roster at the time needed depth at his position. There was no moral judgment; it was a football judgment.
Backup defensive end Demarcus Dobbs was arrested in November 2012 on drunken-driving charges after he was involved in a solo car crash. Police said drug possession was also involved.
The 49ers did not cut Dobbs, who is presently on IR.
First-team defense end Ray McDonald Was arrested in July 2012 on charges relating to a DWI. In a detail that speaks to the lack of seriousness some feel about these issues, the DWI actually occurred in 2010, meaning there was a two-year-long lapse in the law enforcement system regarding his case. Was his case not serious enough to pay attention to? Apparently it was a paperwork error. But there is no mistaking this: The reason McDonald was pulled over in the first place is he was driving 94 mph in a 65 mile-per-hour zone while intoxicated.
The 49ers took no known action against McDonald for the initial DWI or for his second arrest in conjunction with his crime.
And then there is the case of 49ers superstar linebacker Aldon Smith. Smith was convicted of DWI last January. Did the 49ers cut him for his crime? No — and really, law-enforcement didn’t either, as his punishment was essentially a $500 fine. Worth noting: Seven months later in June 2012, police were called to Smith’s home due to reports of a party that included gunshots and stabbings. Smith himself was stabbed while hosting his own house party.
And, no, the 49ers did not cut him, either.
Four players. four 49ers defensive players. Four DWIs, all in the span of mere months.
And some gunfire and stabbings thrown in for good measure.
The 49ers’ response was to angrily cut none of them… and under the leadership of coach Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco has marched to the Super Bowl in part on the strength of those men’s performances.
I don’t know for certain what the Cowboys are going to do with Jay Ratliff or with drunken-driving players in general.
Cut? Counsel? Coddle?
But I know that the 49ers are favored over the Ravens to win the Super Bowl. And you now know how Harbaugh’s team has handled their issues. … and just maybe, they’ve handled it this way because another member of this team was a guilty of a DWI a few years ago.
That person was coach Jim Harbaugh.