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Sunday, January 27, 2013
Updated: January 28, 3:29 PM ET
Let's stick to football on Jay Ratliff

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- If the Dallas Cowboys choose to get rid of nose tackle Jay Ratliff because they believe he's not worth the $7 million he's supposed to earn this season, then fine.
Jay Ratliff
The Cowboys' planned defensive scheme changes are designed to maximize the talents of a player like Jay Ratliff, so they better have a replacement on board if they choose to release him.
Hey, it happens all the time.

A player getting cut because he makes too much money is just part of the dirty game that is the NFL. Dallas will save $1 million against its salary cap if it releases the four-time Pro Bowl player before June 1.

But if the Cowboys decide to release him as some sort of morality play because he was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated, it will be a dumb move.

Yes, even dumber than allegedly driving while intoxicated less than two months after teammate Jerry Brown was killed in a one-car accident and another teammate, Josh Brent, was charged with intoxication manslaughter because he was driving the car.

According to the police report, Ratliff sideswiped an 18-wheeler with his pickup truck last week about 15 minutes from where Brown died and Brent's life changed forever. On Tuesday, Grapevine Police revealed that Ratliff's blood alcohol content was .16 -- twice the legal limit.

Frankly, Ratliff should be on his knees every day thanking a higher power that he didn't kill himself or someone else that night.

We all know if he had a different job, he'd probably already be fired. But athletes and entertainers have such a rare skill set, they're almost always going to get a second chance, or third or fourth chance.

Maybe more.

This is life. Deal with it. And this is professional football -- not the Christian Football League. Or the Morality Football League.

The NFL employs numerous players who have been charged with all sorts of crimes, whether we're talking about domestic violence, assault, sexual assault or drunk driving.

And we haven't even discussed all of the players charged with gun-related crimes.

It's certainly a privilege, not a right, to play in the NFL, but Ratliff doesn't have a history of off-the-field issues. As far as we know, this is Ratliff's first alcohol-related incident and arrest.

Besides, would we be so willing to get rid of Ratliff if he hadn't missed 10 games to injury last season? What if his sack total hadn't decreased each of the past five years from a high of 7.5 in 2008 to none last year?

Would you want Tony Romo gone if he had committed the same dumb mistake? What about Sean Lee? DeMarcus Ware?

Were you asking for the Cowboys to release Dez Bryant last year after the skirmish with his mother, even though the charges were eventually dropped? Would you do it now after he finished the season with more than 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns?

You better be careful when playing the morality card. If you want to play it, then play it for every player in every sport. Don't just use it when guys are at the end of their careers or struggling in their sport.

That requires no courage.

Jason Garrett is always talking about having a team made up of the right kind of of guys. Ratliff usually fits into that category.

When he's healthy, he plays with a relentless energy and passion for the game. He practices as hard as he plays, and has a nasty disposition that much of the Cowboys' defense lacks.

The problem for Garrett and the Cowboys is that with Brent's future in doubt because of his legal issues, the team doesn't have another defensive lineman capable of playing Ratliff's role in the 4-3 defense it is going to spend the offseason implementing.

Just so you know, among the reasons the Cowboys are moving to this scheme is they believe it will help Ratliff maximize his talent. Instead of being an undersized nose tackle who gets double-teamed every play, he can play on the outside shoulder of the guard and use his unique speed and quickness to make plays.

Ratliff's position is key to the scheme being most effective, even though he turns 32 in August.

Surely, Garrett isn't interested in losing his job because the Cowboys sent Ratliff packing without an adequate replacement on the roster, couldn't stop the run all season and missed the playoffs.

The Cowboys should spend free agency and the draft searching for a player with Ratliff's rare skill set. This defense works best when players are regularly rotated.

If the Cowboys find that guy before the season starts, then by all means they can and should say goodbye to Ratliff.

But their decision must be strictly about football. This is the time to be pragmatic, not emotional.