An unheralded seventh-round pick in 2005, Ratliff turned into a role player in his second year. He became a starter in his third season after Jason Ferguson was lost for the year because of an injury. He was a Pro Bowler in his fourth season and would make three more trips to the all-star game.
He was a dominant nose tackle despite being undersized in the 3-4 scheme, recording 21.5 sacks in his first five seasons.
But Ratliff never seemed completely happy. He was often sullen inside the locker room. He was wary of outsiders even when he was praised so often early in his career. He carried a don’t-mess-with-me attitude, which is why he was so good of a player.
He was with you on Sundays, as Bill Parcells would say, but then the production stopped. Jason Garrett always referred to Ratliff as the right kind of guy and a leader but soon he stopped making those types of comments, while also praising the player’s effort. Maybe he was too beaten up from playing against bigger players for so many years. Maybe he just lost it once he hit 30. It happens to a lot of players in the NFL.
The partnership between the Cowboys and Ratliff ended ugly and that’s what will be remembered.
“I think it’s unfortunate,” Ratliff’s agent Mark Slough said. “This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and I get that. But Jay has made some great contributions to the Cowboy organization. I don’t think anyone would question that. I think when people take a breath and sort of step away and look back at what he accomplished here and some of the odds that he overcame, Jay Ratliff in a lot of ways redefined what a 3-4 nose tackle could look like. And I think that’s not to be overlooked. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t have the opportunity to play in this new defense because I think he would have done well. I know the Cowboys thought he would flourish in that defense. They felt like it would extend years on his career. But the injury got in the way, and that happens in the NFL. And that’s unfortunate.”
Somewhere in between the stories lies the truth of what happened here. The truth depends on the perspective. Slough said Wednesday Ratliff’s injury was more severe than what was revealed. The Cowboys didn’t believe it was because they held out hope he could have returned last season for a possible playoff run.
Whatever happened ruined what was a great story involving Ratliff.
Not every story has a happy ending.