Dallas Cowboys: Casey Hampton

Memo to Jerry Jones: You don't pay age in today’s NFL. And you don’t pay players -- even good ones -- who are playing out of position.

No one would argue that Jay Ratliff has given the Cowboys more bang for their buck, since he signed a five-year, $20 million deal a few years ago.

ESPN NFL analyst Ed Werder jumps on to discuss the latest news surrounding your Dallas Cowboys.

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But that doesn’t mean he deserves a new deal -- not now anyway.

First, Jerry needs to see how Ratliff fits into Rob Ryan’s new defense and whether the scheme can make him more effective since he has two years remaining on his contract.

Ratliff is a 30-year-old undersized nose tackle in a scheme that has traditionally demanded the nose tackle be a 330-pound run-stuffer who commands a double team and allows the linebackers to make tackles.

The Cowboys have tried to compensate by aligning him to take advantage of his quickness, which often compromises the integrity of the defense.

Ratliff is probably better suited to be a 4-3 defensive tackle playing on the outside shoulder of the guard, where his quickness and agility would be a significant asset.

Think Warren Sapp or La’roi Glover.

As a nose tackle, Ratliff’s body takes a beating limiting his effectiveness.

We’re talking about a player on the field for 733 plays, who did not record a tackle for loss.

Not one.

Buffalo’s Kyle Williams, who just signed a six-year, $39 million extension with $17 million guaranteed, had 10 tackles for loss last season. So did Miami’s Paul Soliai.

Ratliff, a high-energy and high-character player, had 31 tackles last season for a unit that allowed the most points in franchise history.

The run defense starts with the nose tackle.

Former Texas star Casey Hampton, who’s listed at 325 pounds and weighs at least 40 pounds more, can’t be moved. He had only 20 tackles, but Pittsburgh allowed just 2.7 yards per carry.

At 325 pounds, the Jet’s Sione Pouha anchored a defensive line that allowed just 3.0 on carry.

Each of those teams were particularly good on first down run defense, which puts the offense into obvious passing situations.

Then, the defense has the advantage.

The Cowboys? They allowed 4.45 yards per carry and 5.24 per carry on first down.

Obviously, it’s not all Ratliff’s fault, but he certainly played a role in the Cowboys’ raggedy run defense.

Free agent series: Defensive line

March, 1, 2010
Welcome to Day 2 of our free agent series. On Monday, we looked at Miles Austin, the restricted free agent wide receiver.

Today, it's time to look at the Cowboys defensive line.

Of the Cowboys' 13 restricted free agents, four are from the defensive line and each played well last season.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Spears
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireMarcus Spears had 50 tackles, 2.5 sacks and tied his career best with 16 quarterback pressures last season.
Who are they? Stephen Bowen, Jason Hatcher, Marcus Spears and Junior Siavii.

Should they keep them? Yes.

How much to pay? The Cowboys will probably tender all four of these players, but Spears, an end, was looking for a new contract after his rookie one expired following the season. Spears, a starter who had 50 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks and a career-best tying 16 quarterback pressures, should return.

The Cowboys will probably offer Spears, a five-year veteran, a first-round tender of $2.621 million for 2010.

Under normal conditions, another NFL team might scoop up Spears. But with the 2010 year expected to be uncapped because the owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement, and teams probably not willing to spend as much, we doubt Spears will go elsewhere.

Bowen, an end, has shown the most upside among the backups by playing well on passing downs last season. He compiled career highs in sacks (three) and quarterback pressures (35). He had two more pressures than two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff.

It's hard to say what to give Bowen, a four-year veteran. The Cowboys value him a lot, but do you place a second-round tender on him at $1.759 million or a first-round tender of $2.521 million?

Michael Turner
Tim Heitman/US PresswireJason Hatcher (97), who finished last season with 13 tackles and a sack, likely will get a second-round tender offer of $1.759 million.
Hatcher, another four-year veteran who plays end, came on strong toward the end of the year after finally discovering a groove after offseason surgery. Hatcher had six quarterback pressures the last four weeks of the season.

Hatcher most likely will get a second-round tender offer of $1.759 million.

The Cowboys like Siavii's ability to back up Ratliff at nose. He's had some moments, like the seven-tackle, one-quarterback pressure performance vs. Atlanta, and he picked up three solo tackles vs. Washington. But his snap count changed.

He played just 13 snaps the last three weeks of the season, including one play in the regular-season finale vs. Philadelphia. But in two postseason games, Siavii played 27 total snaps.

Siavii could get an offer of $1.176 million or a minimum salary of much lower than that.

Other free agents worth looking at this position: This is a strong position as evidenced by Aubrayo Franklin, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour getting franchised. Pittsburgh locked up Casey Hampton with a new contract. Also, Julius Peppers, who wouldn't mind playing for the Cowboys, is an unrestricted free agent. Dallas won't dip into the free agent market here because it likes its depth at this position.