Eatman: How Ratliff Situation Might Alter Offseason Approach

You don't have to play dominoes to understand the domino-effect. And this Jay Ratliff situation might change the course for the Cowboys in free agency, especially when it comes to Anthony Spencer.

An unrestricted free agent come March, Spencer hasn't played his last game in a Cowboys uniform, or at least a helmet. He will play in Sunday's Pro Bowl in Hawaii, but after that, it's a strong possibility he will sign with another team.

It's not that the Cowboys don't want him back, especially in this new 4-3 scheme under Monte Kiffin, but the club is already way over the salary cap and that doesn't include a dime for Spencer, who played last year under the $8.8 million franchise tag.

But now you have to wonder how Jay Ratliff's situation has changed things. Ratliff was arrested and charged with DWI after an early-morning car accident Tuesday involving his pickup truck and an 18-wheeler. While no one was injured, it could be rather damaging to Ratliff's future with the Cowboys.

Personally, I think it's time to cut ties with Ratliff. It's not like this team will save a ton of money on the salary cap. It'll probably be just $1 million this year, unless they designate him for a June 1 cut and then it could be about $5 million.

But if you factor in his inability to stay healthy last year – playing just six games, his locker-room blowup with Jerry Jones for the entire team to see, and then the fact he wasn't around his teammates as they played their biggest game of the season, it just doesn't equate to a good situation at all.

Oh, and that's all before his latest arrest which comes less than two months after the tragic death of Jerry Brown, a passenger in the car driven by Josh Brent, who was arrested of vehicular manslaughter.

You wonder how the Cowboys are going to handle this one. While they've said they will stay supportive of Brent, how can they just go out and cut Ratliff because of this?

It's going to have to stem back to his play on the field and there are reasons to suggest he has become a declining player. In six games this year, he had 25 tackles but no sacks. However, he did have 10 quarterback pressures, which still ranked fourth on the team.

Ratliff will be 32 at the start of the regular season, and even if he's with the Cowboys, he'll likely be facing a suspension by the NFL for violating the personal conduct policy.

So again, how does this all equate back to Spencer?

Well, cutting ties with Ratliff, especially if it's designated for June 1 (although the Cowboys could make the move as early as Feb. 4), it would start to open up some cap room.

That's the room the Cowboys would need to even entertain the thought of re-signing Spencer, who will likely get a contract in the range of $10-12 million. Unless the Cowboys just complete wow Spencer with a new contract in February, it's very likely he will get to test the open market come March.

If Spencer isn't re-signed, the Cowboys will likely roll with Jason Hatcher and Tyrone Crawford at defensive end, opposite of DeMarcus Ware. But this is where Hatcher's flexibility comes into play. If Spencer returns, Hatcher has the ability to play inside at defensive tackle. Without a doubt, his versatility will be used, whether Spencer and/or Ratliff are back next year.

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