- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Jay Ratliff should be getting ready to enter free agency right now.
Fortunately for him, the Cowboys signed Ratliff to a five-year, $40 million contract extension when he had two seasons remaining on one of the most team-friendly deals in recent Valley Ranch history.
Ain’t that just classic Jerry Jones?
This was a major mistake regardless of the character concerns that come with Ratliff’s angry confrontation with Jerry Jones in the Cowboys’ locker room in November and his DWI arrest after midnight Tuesday morning, a little more than a month after his backup Josh Brent got arrested for intoxication manslaughter following a crash that killed teammate Jerry Brown.
Whether Ratliff, a team captain, is one of Jason Garrett’s “right kind of guys” is irrelevant when it comes to questioning his contract.
The Cowboys had no reason to rush into paying elite money to a 30-year-old, undersized defensive tackle who had already shown signs of decline. (This isn’t a 20-20 hindsight take; it was my opinion the day the deal got done.)
It’s almost as if Jerry felt guilty about signing Ratliff to a good deal in the first place. The fact that Ratliff outperformed the five-year, $20.9 million contract he signed during his first season as a starter didn’t mean the Cowboys needed to commit to paying him Pro Bowl money past his prime.
The years of wear and tear caught up with Ratliff in 2012, when he missed all of the offseason and training camp with a foot injury, then missed 10 games due to a high ankle sprain and a sports hernia. It can’t be considered a surprise that an undersized player at one of football’s most physically demanding positions breaks down in his early 30s.
There were signs of Ratliff’s decline before the Cowboys made him one of the richest defensive tackles in league history. He had only 3.5 sacks and no tackles for losses the previous season, when the Cowboys allowed the most points in franchise history.
Ratliff’s sack totals the last five seasons: 7.5, 6.0, 3.5, 2.0, 0.
Ratliff’s salaries due the next five seasons: $5 million, $5.5 million, $7 million, $7.5 million and $10 million.
Of course, Ratliff won’t see all that money. It remains to be seen whether Ratliff will be a Cowboy next season, although the lack of depth at defensive tackle makes it difficult to cut him, especially when there was hope that Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 scheme could rejuvenate his career.
Ratliff did get $18 million in guaranteed money in his new deal. That’s $9.4 million more than he was due the last two seasons under his previous contract, so if the Cowboys cut him this offseason, that’s essentially the amount they gave Ratliff for no good reason.
Ratliff is due to count $7 million against the Cowboys’ salary cap next season. They can shave $1 million off that by cutting him. Either way, the Cowboys will have a significant chunk of cap space committed to a poor investment.
Ratliff’s rich extension is not the worst contract the Cowboys have done recently. Receiver Roy Williams’ five-year, $45 million deal is the runaway loser, especially considering the picks the Cowboys gave up to get him.
But Ratliff’s deal ranks right up there.