UPDATE: The Dallas Cowboys cut Jay Ratliff on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 16.
Jay Ratliff is the most absent — and most present — Dallas Cowboy at Valley Ranch this week. We haven’t seen him for weeks, but he’s eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list.
The Cowboys could sure use him, thanks to a litany of injuries, yet there seems to be little optimism that Ratliff will do anything more than sit and get paid.
Even Jerry Jones, ever the bastion of Cowboys optimism, can’t seem to spin this well. When NBC’s Michelle Tafoya asked Jones about Ratliff before Sunday night’s game with Washington, Jones’ body language was palpable enough to leave Tafoya saying that Ratliff not only might not be back this season, but that he also might never return to the field in a Cowboys uniform.
It’s tempting, but it's also pointless to put Jay Ratliff on the active roster if the veteran defensive tackle isn't ready to play.
Jones loves to circle back, talk around and spin the heck out of stuff. You know it’s serious when he doesn’t.
“I think she made an accurate statement,” Jones said on his radio show on Tuesday. “There’s no question [Ratliff missing the rest of this season] is a possibility.
“I don’t know about 'done in Dallas,' if you look at the rest of Jay’s career. But certainly for this year, we’ve got a situation that’s not positive as to him getting out on the field. We’re going to see this week what we’re going to do this week, technically.”
The Cowboys don’t have to activate Ratliff this week. In fact, they have three weeks to do it, per NFL rules. But thanks to a couple of moves on October 15 designed to shore up depth at defensive end and running back, the Cowboys now have an open roster spot.
It’s tempting, but it's also pointless to put Ratliff on the active roster if the veteran defensive tackle isn't ready to play. Head coach Jason Garrett echoed that during his press conference on October 14.
“We need to see Ratliff do a lot,” Garrett said. “He hasn’t played football in a while.”
In fact, Ratliff’s last game was on November 18, 2012, against Cleveland. After that Ratliff was on his way to sports hernia surgery and an embarrassing DWI arrest.
There’s tension between the organization and Ratliff over his injury rehab, as the Cowboys had other players that had similar surgery that were ready for training camp. Plus there’s the whopping contract — seven years, $48.6 million — signed in 2011 and sitting on the Cowboys’ ledger like a rock.
So for the Cowboys it’s decision time, and it’s a pretty easy one. If Ratliff plays, he may stay beyond this year. But if he goes to injured reserve, he’s gone for good.
That might be the best thing for the Cowboys at this point. Ratliff’s overall play since signing his 2011 contract has been disappointing. A move to IR means he won’t play an actual football game for nearly two years. By then he’ll be 33 years old, ancient in the world of defensive tackles.
Parting won’t be pretty. Although the Cowboys would get $5.5 million in base salary back for 2014 — plus some huge base salary savings in 2015 ($7 million), 2016 ($7.5 million) and 2017 ($10 million) – there is the matter of approximately $6.9 million in cap space that must be dealt with. That hit would accelerate into the 2014 salary cap, and it’s likely the Cowboys would treat Ratliff like a June 1 roster cut, meaning they could spread the pain over two years.
But if Ratliff isn’t ready, and won’t be ready by week nine, the prudent move for the Cowboys is to move Ratliff to IR, pluck a warm body off the waiver wire, and then wait until next offseason to cut Ratliff and move on.
The Cowboys knew they were going to have to find their tackle of the future soon as they transitioned to the Cover 2. Judging by everyone’s attitude at Valley Ranch, it looks like the future may be here.