- Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- On the physically unable to perform list for the first six weeks of the season, Jay Ratliff can play as many as 10 regular-season games or as few as five for the Cowboys this season, depending on his fitness in October.
Will they be his final regular-season games for the Cowboys?
The salary cap would seem to indicate it will be. Ratliff is scheduled to count $8.232 million against the cap in 2014. That’s a lot of money for a player who has been unable to play a full season since 2011 and whose sack total has decreased in each of the past five seasons.
Cutting Ratliff now would put only $6.928 million in dead money against the 2014 salary cap. Designating Ratliff a post-June 1 cut next year would create $5.5 million in space in 2014, but also leave nearly $4.2 million in dead money in 2015.
The best maneuver for the Cowboys would be to make a clean break. Take the full $6.928 million hit of bonus proration in 2014. A straight cut now would save the Cowboys $1.304 million in cap space next year.
More importantly, Ratliff would not be on the books in 2015.
Dez Bryant and Bruce Carter will be unrestricted free agents following the 2014 season. Tyron Smith could be locked into the fifth-year option of his rookie deal. The team must decide to use the option on Smith by next spring. That money is guaranteed by the first day of the 2015 league year. They have time to do a deal with Smith.
Bryant and Carter would be more pressing, and Bryant would seem to command megabucks if he has the type of 2013 season many anticipate.
By clearing Ratliff off the 2015 cap, the Cowboys would be able to structure these contracts in a more even way if they want. Or they could make the second-year base salaries high knowing they would restructure them anyway to create room, as they have done with Brandon Carr and Tony Romo, and not have to knock all those salaries down to the minimum and create larger cap numbers in the future.
The Cowboys have made this sort of quick-and-clean decision before. In 2009 they cut Terrell Owens and took a cap hit of nearly $9 million all in one season rather than spread it out over two. To a smaller degree, they did the same thing this offseason with safety Gerald Sensabaugh.
The clock is ticking on Ratliff for a variety of reasons. The salary-cap clock is always ticking for the Cowboys.