Dallas Cowboys: Cowboys cut Jay Ratliff

Ratliff, Witten deals in 2011 offer big contrast

October, 17, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- A day apart in September 2011, the Dallas Cowboys signed DT Jay Ratliff and TE Jason Witten to five-year contract extensions.

Each player had two years remaining on his deal at the time, but the Cowboys wanted to reward the Pro Bowl performers with new contracts in hopes that they would retire with the club. The Cowboys also received some salary-cap relief in the early part of the contracts even though it cost them up-front cash.

Ratliff’s extension was worth $40 million and included $18 million guaranteed. Witten’s deal was worth $37 million and included $19 million guaranteed.

On Wednesday, Ratliff was cut by the Cowboys amid acrimony stemming from a groin injury suffered last season that is still bothering him today. Witten, meanwhile, was on the practice field getting ready for Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The adage that has been repeated by many lately is you don’t pay age in the NFL. Well, sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t.

Ratliff had just turned 30 when he signed and was entering his seventh season. Witten turned 29 a few months before signing but was entering his ninth season

The Cowboys did not get a return on Ratliff on the most recent extension. He played in only 22 games after signing on Sept. 9, 2011. He recorded only two sacks and seven tackles for loss.

And now he’s gone.

Witten, now 31, has not missed a game, playing through a lacerated spleen early last season, and has 220 catches for 2,321 yards and 11 touchdowns since the extension. Last year, he set an NFL record for catches in a season by a tight end with 110 and played in his eighth Pro Bowl.

And still he plays on.

Jay Ratliff story ruined at the end

October, 17, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- Jay Ratliff should have been viewed as one of the Dallas Cowboys' biggest success stories.

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.

Jay Ratliff contract might be Jones' worst

October, 16, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- All due disrespect to Roy Williams (both of them), but the Jay Ratliff deal might rank as the worst contractual mistake of Jerry Jones' career as a general manager.

Essentially, the Cowboys got a grand total of zero snaps from Ratliff in exchange for $18 million in guaranteed money.

There was no reason for the Cowboys to rush into giving Ratliff a rich contract extension a couple of years ago. (And that isn't hindsight.) He still had two years left on a team-friendly deal. Sure, he could have argued that he deserved a new deal after four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, but that definitely didn't make it a smart business move for the Cowboys to heavily invest in a then-30-year-old who didn't have any leverage.

But Jones did right by Ratliff ... only to have it blow up in his face about as badly as possible.

The concern about Ratliff's body breaking down became a worst-case scenario. He had several physical ailments over the last two years, culminating with a sports hernia or groin muscle torn off the bone and torn tendons, depending on whether you believe the company line repeated dozens of times since last December or the version of the story shared by agent Mark Slough after Ratliff's release.

The signing bonus was paid in 2011, but that five-year, $40 million contract extension just kicked in this season. Ratliff will never see the majority of the money, but he basically got $18 million for nothing.

The pain the contract causes the Cowboys will be felt well after Ratliff's release Wednesday.

The Cowboys made a bad contract worse by restructuring Ratliff's deal this offseason -- after his sack totals declined for five straight seasons (bottoming out at zero), after he was limited to six games in 2012 due to injuries, after he tried to fight his boss in front of the team, and after he was arrested on a driving while intoxicated charge six weeks removed from his backup being charged for intoxication manslaughter following a drunken-driving accident that killed a teammate.

The restructured contract consisted of turning most of Ratliff's 2013 base salary into a bonus, the NFL equivalent of paying the minimum balance on a credit card. That bill is due in full next season, when Ratliff will count for $6.93 million of dead money against the Cowboys' salary cap.

Think the Cowboys could use that cash for a more worthy cause? It'd sure be handy in their search for a replacement for Ratliff or defensive end Anthony Spencer. Or in a contract that keeps defensive tackle Jason Hatcher in Dallas, although his negotiations are certainly complicated by the disastrous results of the last time the Cowboys paid an aging defensive tackle.

Unlike Ratliff in 2011, Hatcher will actually have some leverage. If the Cowboys don't sign Hatcher -- or use the franchise tag on him -- he'll play for another team next season.

Ratliff wasn't going anywhere for two years when Jones made an eight-figure deposit in his checking account. Perhaps they paid the $18 million in guaranteed money to make sure the notoriously volatile Ratliff remained happy.

In return, Ratliff sparred with the owner/general manager, warred with the team's medical staff, and left a huge cap hit and massive hole in the Dallas defense's depth chart.

Cap ramifications of Jay Ratliff move

October, 16, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys waited too long to cut Jay Ratliff, but by clearing him off the salary-cap books as soon as possible by cutting him today they made the best decision for the future.

Looking back, the decision to extend Ratliff’s deal another five years in 2011 for $40 million (with $18 million guaranteed), was a poor one. Never pay age and Ratliff had just turned 30, but the Cowboys got the better end of their first extension with him: five years, $20.9 million in which he out-performed the contract.

Last March the Cowboys guaranteed $3.66 million of Ratliff’s $5 million base salary to provide salary-cap relief in 2013. The team hoped Ratliff would rebound in Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 scheme and produce at a high level even if his sack total had decreased in each of the last five seasons. He never rebounded from the injury.

Had the Cowboys cut Ratliff in the spring, they would have saved $1 million against the cap this season and been free from dead money. By cutting him now the Cowboys save $625,000 against the cap immediately but he will count $6.9 million in dead million in 2014.

Already scheduled to count $8.232 million in 2014, the Cowboys net an overall savings of $1.304 million next year.

Had the Cowboys waited to cut Ratliff after this season and designated him a post-June 1 cut to create more 2014 savings, then he would have hampered their cap in 2015.

The 2015 season means a lot to the Cowboys in terms of their cap.

Dez Bryant is set to be an unrestricted free agent after the 2014 season. If the Cowboys want, they could use the franchise tag on Bryant. The Cowboys could pick up the fifth-year option on Tyron Smith's contract, which would see his cap figure jump up close to whatever the transition tag would be for the offensive tackles, for 2015 but would like to extend him before that if possible.

Ratliff was due to count $11.02 million against the cap in 2015, so that money, in effect, can be designated for Bryant, Smith or even Bruce Carter.

It's about time the Cowboys cut Jay Ratliff

October, 16, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys were late to the party when it came to releasing defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, which is something they finally did on Wednesday afternoon.

He should have been released when the 2012 season was over for numerous incidents including getting into a shouting match with Jerry Jones. But Ratliff was given another chance, with Jones even calling the moody player a son. Ratliff acted like a lout after he was arrested for a DWI in January for getting into it with police in Grapevine, Texas.

The Cowboys said it was a mistake and the franchise would do better in terms of educating its players about the abuses of alcohol by working with MADD. It was amazing Ratliff would involve himself in an alcohol-related incident especially after teammate Josh Brent, who replaced an injured Ratliff in the lineup, was charged with intoxication manslaughter just a few weeks prior.

The offseason didn't get better for Ratliff. He battled with the teams' respected strength and conditioning staffers, who were only trying to help him return to the field. Instead, Ratliff lost trust in them as he recovered from a sports hernia surgery.

When training camp started, the Cowboys told the media and their fans the new 4-3 defensive scheme would benefit Ratliff because he would no longer face constant double-teams and instead would take on guards and centers one-on-one.

But Ratliff's health remained a problem. He injured his hamstring while passing the conditioning test and didn't even practice. Ratliff was on the practice fields in Oxnard, Calif., watching his teammates put in the work he desperately wanted to be a part of.

As the season started, Ratliff remained on the PUP list, but the Cowboys allowed him to rehab in two different locations. No reason was given, but the team didn't believe it was a problem because there was a hope Ratliff would return.

Ratliff was eligible to practice on Monday but didn't step onto the field because he wasn't ready from a health standpoint. Ratliff met with team officials about his future instead.

For all the trouble Ratliff caused in the past few months, he didn't seem to be worth anybody's time or effort. The Cowboys valued him greatly and what he could do on the field, but toward the end of his time with the Cowboys there was always some sort of drama with him.

Where was the production on the field?

NFL teams will put up with you for only so long because you can produce on the field. Once that stops happening, it's time to move on. The Cowboys made a mistake in holding on to Ratliff for as long as they did.