IRVING, Texas – Cowboys players and coaches had plenty of time to organize their thoughts of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jay Ratliff in the hours between his release Wednesday and Thursday's open locker room session.
Aside from the medical and financial implications surrounding Ratliff's release, members throughout the Cowboys organization were quick to point out the defensive tackle's value and impact within the playing field. Ratliff appeared in 104 games and started 85 as a seventh round pick by the Cowboys in 2005. He notched 27 sacks and 317 total tackles in his eight seasons with the team. His efforts earned him four straight Pro Bowl trips from 2008-11 and established him as one of the league's best 3-4 nose tackles in that time period.
"Heck of a player -- I keep going back to that, because he played the right way for the Cowboys. He was always a guy who practiced hard, he played hard, the game was important to him. Anybody that was around him knows the demeanor that he played with," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "He was an intimidating figure. He was an incredibly productive player for us, a Pro Bowl player, and a great example to his teammates about how to play the game."
Of any teammate that saw that example, DeMarcus Ware stands out. Following Ratliff's release, Ware is the final member of the Cowboys' 2005 draft class on the roster – Ware was taken 11th overall, in the first round, while Ratliff's seventh round selection came all the way at No. 224.
Ware said it's odd looking around the locker room and seeing only long snapper L.P. Ladouceur remaining from the team's 2005 rookie class.
"When you talk about just the business of the game, things happen for certain reasons, reasons I don't know. You've just got to keep playing," Ware said. "He came in with me. I feel like now, me and L.P., we're the last Mohicans here. You've just got to look at it as a business. I know Jay, he's going to end up going to another team because he's a great player like that."
Having spent nine seasons on the defensive line with him, Ware is well qualified to talk about Ratliff, but several other Cowboys veterans had thoughts to offer.
As of Thursday afternoon, Ratliff's locker had yet to be cleaned out. Jason Witten, whose locker sits our feet away, said he'll remember the high level of play evidenced by the Pro Bowl sticker's adorning Ratliff's area. [embedded_ad]
"He's a guy I've known for a long time. We played together a long time – a core group of us, and he's a guy you wanted on your side on Sundays, that's for sure," Witten said.
In Ratliff's official statement, delivered by his agent Mark Slough on Wednesday, he was sure to thank Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones for taking the chance of drafting him. In addressing the decision to release him Thursday, Jones repaid those thanks to the veteran.
"You know, I have 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. As it turns out, all great players have to have a time," Jones said. "Now, his career has maybe not ended, but I know he gave us great effort. He's a tremendous competitor. I don't look at anything but positives, I really don't. We needed him when we had him, and we need him now that we don't have him. But that's just not the way it is – that's the reality of it. We do, as I certainly would, wish him the very best and a speedy rehab and hope for him that he has more career."