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No reason to rush Jay Ratliff's deal

9/9/2011

IRVING, Texas – Perennial Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff deserved a new contract.

That doesn’t necessarily make it good business for the Dallas Cowboys to give him a new deal now.

The deal is done, however. He’s agreed to a five-year extension through 2017 worth $40 million with $18 million guaranteed, including a $10 million signing bonus.

Nobody can question whether Ratliff outperformed his previous deal. The former seventh-round pick was a first-year starter when he signed a five-year, $20.9 million contract. That’s solid money for a starter, but he’s been way underpaid while earning trips to the last three Pro Bowls.

“You rarely see guys at that position athletically do the things Jay can do – dropping back in coverage, covering screen passes, getting downfield 10, 15, 20 yards to tackle runners from behind,” agent Mark Slough said. “He’s not the prototypical nose tackle, which is what everyone was concerned about when Jason Ferguson got hurt [to open a starting job for Ratliff]. But not being a prototypical nose tackle has made Jay what he is. Very rarely do guys come along in this league who sort of redefine a position.”

The question now is whether Ratliff, an undersized player for his position who just turned 30, can continue being a Pro Bowl player. He’s being paid like an elite nose tackle now, although the structure of the contract is likely favorable for the Cowboys. Ratliff will be determined to prove he’s worth that kind of money, as was the case with his previous contract.

However, truth be told, Ratliff didn’t really earn his Pro Bowl trip last season. It was a reputation selection. His sack total dropped to 3.5 and he didn’t have a single tackle for a loss for a defense that allowed the most points in the NFC.

Don’t consider that irrefutable evidence that Ratliff is on the decline. It’s dangerous to doubt a man as talented, motivated and well conditioned as No. 90.

Ratliff’s numbers could soar in Rob Ryan’s scheme, which will utilize his unique athletic ability by lining him up all over the field, picking matchups to exploit on a weekly basis. That’s clearly what the Cowboys are counting on happening.

It’s nice that the Cowboys rewarded Ratliff for being a bargain the last few years, but paying for past performance causes problems for NFL teams. There’s a long list of ex-Cowboys who are evidence of that.

What was the rush with Ratliff? He wasn’t going anywhere with two seasons left on his contract. The price wasn’t going to go up much, if at all.

Why not wait eight weeks or so to be certain that Ratliff is still a disruptive force and not a declining player?