NFL Nation: Jay Ratliff
OK, so that didn't work out real well with Ratliff, who now plays for the Chicago Bears after a rather bitter departure from Dallas in October. But the other players in the exit lockers -- Tony Romo, Sean Lee, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware and Doug Free -- set examples that Garrett wants the rest of the Cowboys to follow.
"An NFL locker room is a sacred place, and there are things that are controlled in there," said Witten, who is now Smith's neighbor in the locker room. "Tyron has earned that. That's something that he deserves. If you look around our football team, he's a guy that plays at a high level and expects everyone else to as well. I think that's a good thing to have him there."
Garrett has been effusive in his praise for Smith recently, saying the third-year tackle is performing at a Pro Bowl level. Smith's new real estate in the locker room is evidence that the coaches consider him a leader despite the fact that he's younger than every player on the team with the exception of most rookies.
"Ain't there yet," Smith said. "I'm trying to get there."
But Ratliff never played a down for the Cowboys in 2013 and was cut on Oct. 16. Hatcher has put up a career-high nine sacks in 11 games (he missed one game with a stinger) and has five tackles for loss, 23 quarterback pressures, three pass deflections, a forced fumble and 40 tackles.
“Horrible,” Hatcher said when asked about the possibility of playing nose tackle. “Horrible. Horrible. I’m not a nose tackle. I probably would’ve been asking to be traded or something because I don’t like to play the nose. I’m not going to say I’m glad Rat is gone because I wish we had him because he’s a helluva football player, but God works in mysterious ways and I’m at the position. I’m making plays and having a helluva year, so I’ve got to keep it up.”
The timing couldn’t be better for Hatcher, who will be an unrestricted free agent following the season. He also turns 32 in July, which could keep the Cowboys and other teams from making a big financial play to sign him.
But speaking on KRLD-FM recently Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Hatcher has outperformed the three-year, $6 million deal he signed in 2011.
“Thank you Stephen for saying that,” Hatcher said. “I think it’s awesome. I don’t want to just talk about my contract. I just want to focus on these next couple of games, man, and let the chips fall where they may. I’m not worried about it. I think my play will take care of everything. It’s nothing you can really do about the situation with my contract, so there’s no need to be talking about it.”
Other Bears inactives include quarterback Jay Cutler, linebacker Lance Briggs, long snapper Patrick Mannelly, offensive lineman James Brown, offensive tackle Jonathan Scott and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff.
Ravens inactives include defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, receiver Marlon Brown, safety Omar Brown, running back Bernard Scott, receiver Brandon Stokley, offensive lineman Ryan Jensen and linebacker John Simon.
Bennett rested his sore ankle on Thursday, but returned to the field in limited fashion on Friday.
“He (Bennett) worked probably 50 percent of the practice,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “We were trying to be smart with him, but he got work in today and did well. Hopefully with 48 hours (until kickoff on Sunday) he’ll feel even better. But we got some execution done with him, so it was good.”
Bennett has battled through nagging injuries much of the season, but has still managed to start all nine games and catch 40 passes for 421 yards and four touchdowns.
McClellin was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his three-sack performance against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 4, but he tweaked his hamstring at practice last Thursday and was inactive for the Bears’ Week 10 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
McClellin worked on the side with the training staff the past three days during practice but did not officially participate.
In other injury news, linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder), quarterback Jay Cutler (ankle) and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (groin) were all ruled out for Sunday.
The Bears believe Ratliff will be in a position to contribute sometime in the next couple of weeks. The veteran defensive tackle participated in conditioning drills on Friday while his teammates practiced. Ratliff has not played in an NFL game since last November as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
The Bears also list long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) as doubtful and right guard Jordan Mills (quad) as probable.
This week our panel weighs in on the importance of a Bears win over the Lions, the Cutler decision and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears will go on to win the NFC North if they beat the Lions on Sunday.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. With Cutler back and a bunch of mediocre to lousy teams left on the schedule, I think the Bears finish strong, despite a porous defense. They hope the signing of defensive tackle Jeremiah (formerly Jay) Ratliff shores up the defensive line, which finally brought consistent pressure at Green Bay last week. That win over Green Bay is important for the Bears for tiebreaking rules. Detroit will play host to Green Bay on Thanksgiving, presumably without Rodgers, while the Bears likely will have to face him at home in the season finale. For a team that looked hopeless after the Washington loss, the Bears' future is bright again.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears should protect Cutler and start Josh McCown on Sunday.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I argued the opposite in a recent Hot Button, but Cutler believes he can go so you have to let him start. This is reality in the NFL. No team would dare bench a starter for more rest to play a journeyman backup, even one as solid as McCown. This isn't a Colin Kaepernick-Alex Smith situation. In the NBA or any league with a long, drawn-out schedule, you rest your stars. But in the NFL, if a doctor clears you, you play.
Fact or Fiction: Ratliff will make an impact for the Bears' defensive line this season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. It's impossible to sign off on the idea of Ratliff making an impact until we actually see him on the field. Ratliff told ESPN 1000's "Waddle & Silvy Show" that he is still a couple of weeks away from returning to the field, so it sounds as if he might not make his Bears debut until Nov. 24 at St. Louis at the earliest. When healthy, Ratliff was one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. But he hasn't played in a game since November 2012. That is a concern.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. He will play at some point soon. If he doesn't suit up, that's a pretty big blunder for a team stretching the salary cap as it is. At 32, Ratliff certainly isn't in the prime of his career, but I'll take a big body and veteran savvy any day. The Bears need help, any help, on that depleted defensive line, and I think the former Pro Bowler can provide it, even if it's in spurts.
Fact or Fiction: Calvin Johnson will have more than 200 yards receiving against the Bears.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Johnson will be his usual dangerous stuff, but he's not going over 200 receiving yards on the Bears. Now, is it possible that Reggie Bush rushes for more than 125 yards? You bet it is. And that's a major issue, because the Bears had all kinds of problems stopping Green Bay running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks on Monday. Charles Tillman's knee isn't 100 percent, so that will be working in Johnson's favor Sunday, but I can't see him replicating the kind of game he had against Dallas two weeks ago with 14 catches for 329 yards. I predict the Bears hold Johnson to 150 yards receiving and one touchdown. Consider that a moral victory.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Sure, he's coming off a 329-yard game and sure, the Bears' defense is a train wreck. But while Johnson is a decent bet to break his single-game mark against the Bears -- 133 yards -- I don't think he'll crack 200 for the second straight week and fourth time in his career. The key, of course, is the Bears defensive line. If they can pressure Matthew Stafford like they did to Rodgers and Wallace, Johnson will be lucky to get past the century mark.
Cutler is expected to test out his injured groin muscle on the practice field on Thursday to give the Bears an idea of where he is at physically in regards to potentially starting at quarterback Sunday versus the Detroit Lions.
In other injury news, linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder), defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (groin) and long snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) would not have participated on Wednesday.
Mannelly is considered week-to-week and is not expected to be active this weekend, while Ratliff told ESPN 1000’s “Waddle and Silvy Show” on Monday that he is still “a couple of weeks” away from returning from his injury.
Linebacker Blake Costanzo (back), tight end Dante Rosario (ankle) and cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) were also listed as being limited.
IRVING, Texas -- After nine games, the Dallas Cowboys have issues.
The defense can't stop a topflight quarterback. The offense can't -- or won't -- run the ball. Injuries have affected the offensive line, defensive line and secondary.
Yet with seven games to play, the Cowboys lead the NFC East with a 5-4 record. Can they join the conference elite?
Before that question can be answered, here's a look at how the Cowboys have graded out so far:
It’s been nearly a year since Ratliff, 32, last played in a game, and while it’s projected he could play for Chicago in anywhere between two and four weeks, it’s unknown how effective he’ll be once the Bears plug him into the lineup.
From the team’s standpoint, even if Ratliff isn’t ready in the two-to-four week timeframe, it didn’t give up anything to get him, and signed him to a one-year deal, which means there’s no downside for the Bears over the long term. So in weighing the risk versus reward, the team saw the potential positive outcome in signing Ratliff as much more significant than the negative.
Given that Ratliff had plenty of suitors, other teams obviously saw it the same way.
If Ratliff returns as a mediocre player, that’s probably sufficient enough to give the Bears enough confidence to move Corey Wootton back to defensive end from the three-technique defensive tackle position. Normally the starting defensive end opposite Julius Peppers, Wootton was kicked inside to tackle on Oct. 6 in place of Stephen Paea, and ended up having to stay there when the team lost Nate Collins -- who was filling in for franchise defensive tackle Henry Melton -- to a season-ending knee injury. With Wootton forced to play inside, the Bears have started Shea McClellin at defensive end, and the former first-round pick has been ineffective.
So if the Bears can get Ratliff into the lineup over the next few weeks, it should cause a chain reaction along the defensive line that could result in more consistent play against the run, and more push with the pass rush. But the questions for now are when will Chicago be able to make that happen, and whether the team can hold up well enough over the next few weeks for Ratliff’s eventual Bears debut to even matter?
If Chicago buries itself in the NFC North race by losing two of its next three games against the Packers, Lions and Ravens before plugging in Ratliff on Nov. 24 at St. Louis, his debut won’t be as significant as it would be if the Bears were still in the thick of the playoff race.
Also, observers shouldn’t get caught up in the fact Ratliff has spent most of his career playing in a 3-4 defense. When the Cowboys hired former Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, there was plenty of optimism inside that organization about the type of production the club could get from Ratliff playing in a penetrating one-gap scheme. In eight seasons with the Cowboys, Ratliff racked up 27 sacks, 13 fumble recoveries, and 15 pass breakups, in addition to forcing four fumbles.
In a more aggressive scheme that allows Ratliff to penetrate immediately (as opposed to holding up blockers, reading, and reacting like in a 3-4) the veteran, even at age 32, could still ring up similar numbers as a Bear, provided he’s healthy.
Ratliff will certainly be motivated since he’s playing on a one-year deal, and is set to become an unrestricted free agent. If Ratliff plays well enough, the Bears might even gain some leverage in negotiations with Melton, and could even decide to go with the former moving forward over the latter.
"Again, that’s a legal matter," Jones said after Thursday's practice. "But all agreements require people to abide by the agreements. That’s why you have legal issues. We obviously have an agreement with him, had an agreement with him, and to the extent that you have some concern within that, that’s why you have legal."
Ratliff had a sports hernia surgery in December and was expected back sooner than what the team expected. There was communication problems between Ratliff and the Cowboys' team doctors in terms of treatment and the type of surgery.
Ratliff had surgery to repair tendons torn off his pelvic bone, which is slightly different than a sports hernia surgery.
"I had said earlier that I thought I was going to focus on good things," Jones said. "The contribution that he made here, we all need him real bad, this team needs him real bad, needed him real bad, was disappointed that he wasn’t playing, disappointing that the resources that are involved here aren’t going to a guy out here making plays."
I wonder if they can make it three in a row Sunday against the Detroit Lions. They have not won three in a row since Weeks 13-15 last season.
On to the Wonders:
• Right guard Brian Waters has helped cement the interior of the offensive line this season. It has not always been perfect, but it’s been solid and that’s not always been the case for the Cowboys the last few seasons. Waters is 36. I wonder if he wants to play again as a 37 year old. The Cowboys signed Waters to a one-year deal before the season started and allowed him to work in slowly before taking over the starting spot. If Waters wants to play again -- and it’s a question I’ll try to ask him this week -- I would bet the Cowboys would want him. There will have to be some assurances that he will take part in the offseason or training camp for sure. The proximity to his home should make a difference if he wants to play. I don’t know how big that “if” is, but the younger players have learned a lot from Waters and so have the more veteran guys. He helps with the shotgun snap by tapping rookie Travis Frederick. He has the strength to hold up at the point of attack. He doesn’t move as well as he once did, but he’s not just a phone booth guy either.
• Entering the game against the Philadelphia Eagles, DeMarco Murray had the highest percentage of rushing yards of a team in the league with 428 of the Cowboys’ 509 rushing yards. That percentage went down since he missed the Eagles’ game, and I wonder if the Cowboys will continue to use Joseph Randle in a role once Murray comes back from the knee injury. Murray has had a good 2013 season, but if Randle can lessen the burden, then the fresher Murray will be. We don’t know how Murray will handle a large amount of carries. He has never had more than 164 in a season because of injuries. Randle showed some decent vision against the Eagles and he was secure with the ball. He has more make-you-miss than Murray as well. Murray will still be the Cowboys’ bell cow in the running game, but if Randle can offer more than just a change of pace it makes sense to keep him involved in the game plan.
• I wonder if Dwayne Harris' punt return opportunities will be limited for the rest of the season. It would be the ultimate sign of respect from the opposition. Philadelphia’s Donnie Jones made sure Harris would not be a factor. His punts were high and outside the numbers, limiting where Harris could go if he chose to return a punt. As a result Harris averaged just 4.6 yards per punt return and had to use a fair catch signal twice. If this continues -- and if teams are smart it will -- then Harris will have to remain patient. Jason Garrett loves Harris’ decision making, but he knows there could come a time where Harris might try to make something out of nothing. That can only lead to trouble. Harris is a major weapon and the Eagles made sure he would not beat them the way he beat the Washington Redskins the previous week.
• I wonder if Edgar Jones knows just how much people will be paying attention to his recovery from sports hernia surgery. The Cowboys put him on the short-term injured reserve list, meaning he is out for eight weeks and can return Dec. 15 against the Green Bay Packers. Last December, the Cowboys chose not to place Jay Ratliff on injured reserve after he had sports hernia surgery because they hoped he would be able to return for a possible playoff run. Ratliff’s agent contended the surgery was more severe than the typical sports hernia, but I contend that if the Cowboys believed it would be a 12-month recovery they would have put him on injured reserve immediately last year. All surgeries are different. All rehab times are different. Terence Newman was back in five weeks from a sports hernia surgery a few years ago. Jones’ surgery was performed by the same doctor as Ratliff as well. If you’re wondering why the Cowboys used the one-time IR designation on Jones, then remember that the team was running out of time to use it and hope a player can be back in the regular season.
A picture of Ratliff screaming after a sack hangs on the wall outside the lunch room.
While Ratliff's locker and picture are seen at Valley Ranch, his absence on the field is felt.
The franchise could have avoided this drama with Ratliff if he were released following the 2012 regular season instead of on Wednesday. Ratliff remained because of the hope that he would get healthy.
Ratliff and the Cowboys had major communication issues during the offseason about how seriously he was hurt and why he did certain things during the offseason.
Why was Ratliff allowed to workout during the OTAs and minicamps? Why was he even running the annual conditioning test to start training camp?
We ask these questions based on comments made by Ratliff's agent, who said the defensive tackle had severe injuries to his pelvis. If Ratliff was hurt as bad as his agent says he was, he should have never worked out in any fashion.
But the team thought he would be ready for the season, based on medical information they obtained, and that's why they allowed him to take the test. Ratliff would say his competitive nature took over. He should've just rested his body.
If Ratliff had done so, maybe whole thing wouldn't have happened.
"Well, I always like to hear about free bubbly up in rainbows, too," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "It's all positive. So I'm saying I don't like to hear anything that has a connotation of disagreement. The real world is that you have that, you have differences of opinion, and you certainly have it under the trying time of an injury situation. I think the most down that I know in my small experience of play -- but certainly I've observed it from players -- the most down time you have is when you're hurt and not able to be out there with your teammates and playing and not looking to the future. By the definition of being a player, they're competitors. They want to play."
Ratliff is a talented player with a combative personality. There was a gentle side to the man, but nobody cares about that now, given how he was released and the comments that were made.
"If healthy, then yes," Slough said.
"It was a very vicious injury," Slough said during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. "This injury takes a long time to heal. The expectation from the beginning was that this injury would probably take a year [to heal]. I had doctors tell me that if it had happened to me, someone who wasn't an athlete, this would probably take a couple of years to heal. So the fact that Jay is not yet healthy is not a surprise based on the severity of the injury. But I think people misunderstood -- well, I know people misunderstood -- because they never really had a clear idea of what happened. Jay is recovering very well. He is in excellent shape, looks as good as he ever has."
Slough said several NFL teams have asked about Ratliff's services, but he wouldn't reveal them. One NFL executive said Ratliff is a solid player but that his health raises concerns.
"Can he hold up?" said the NFL executive. "What's his conditioning like? Lots of questions. He's a solid veteran player. If he's healthy, then I'm sure a lot of teams would kick the tire on him. There seems to be mixed signals out there if he will play or not."
Another NFL executive said Ratliff has to get healthy first before looking at him, but added, "He's a good football player when healthy."
If this injury was as serious as Ratliff's agent says, why the heck didn't the Cowboys address their need for a defensive tackle in the draft?
That decision to trade down actually looks pretty good in hindsight, given the contributions of center Travis Frederick and receiver Terrance Williams, the two players the Cowboys selected with the picks acquired in the deal with the San Francisco 49ers. But the Cowboys not addressing defensive tackle at all in the draft is especially head-scratching considering the claim made by agent Mark Slough after Ratliff's release.
"Well, I didn't have the benefit of the information that we've got today when we were making those decisions," Jones said. "I'm just saying we didn't have the benefit. Don't read anything into that. You're talking Monday morning quarterbacking. Hindsight."
Actually, it was a subject of much discussion during draft weekend. At best, Ratliff was an aging defensive tackle who was coming off an injury-plagued season.
Jones also referred to "differences of opinion" about Ratliff's injury. He didn't go into details about what those were, but it's clear that the Cowboys' medical staff didn't believe that Ratliff would need a full year to recover from his December surgery.
If the Cowboys knew that, they wouldn't have ignored defensive tackle during the draft, right?
"Oh, we don't want to go back to draft day," coach Jason Garrett said. "There are a lot of different reason you make decisions for your football team. And we certainly felt good about the defensive linemen that we had on our team at that time available to us.
"Sometimes you can't anticipate injuries happening. We had a little bit of a rash of injuries starting with Tyrone Crawford, a player we feel can be a heck of a football player for us on that defensive line. We anticipated Anthony Spencer being available to us. And at some point, we anticipated Jay Ratliff being available to us.
"But unfortunately none of those things have happened. So now we make our next best decisions and we handle the situation as well as we can."
For whatever reason, the Cowboys are stuck making the best out of a bad situation because they counted on Ratliff.
“We don’t get into, especially under these circumstances, the details of opinions of injury and this has also become a legal matter,” Jones said, “and so you can understand the need to not comment on specifics at this time.”
Yet after Ratliff had the surgery last season, the Cowboys held out hope he would return for a playoff run that never came. Ratliff took part in a few organized team activities and mini-camp work in the spring, but he failed the conditioning test at the start of training camp after straining a hamstring.
Ratliff was eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list this week, but the Cowboys decided to part ways with their four-time Pro Bowler.
“We just think availability due to health has been the biggest issue with Jay over the last couple of years,” Garrett said. “He’s been a heck of a football player for this team for a long time, and Jay played the right way, he practiced the right way, football was important to him, he was a heck of a competitor -- heck of a leader on our football team because of the example that he set to everybody else about how you need to play this game. … We just felt like this is the right decision for our football team now and going forward.”
Jones and Ratliff had a confrontation in the locker room after a game last season but both expressed gratitude for their time together. Jones said he has a “long history of having an appreciation for guys who give it up and work and play through pain, and I do with Jay. So it is disappointing that that great career of his has to end.” In a statement, Ratliff said thanks.
Jones said he believed the closing of the door on Ratliff will help the team in knowing “help is not on the way,” but acknowledged the need the team has for defensive linemen.
“It’s a sad matter because we do need him and he wants to be out competing and helping his teammates and helping us win,” Jones said. “But I can’t operate in a world where I go back and take today’s information and apply it to decisions made one year ago.”
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 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.
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