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Ellis: Structure Key To Ratliff's New Deal

IRVING, Texas -As maligned as the Cowboys have been for the bad contracts they've written in recent years, they deserve credit for the five-year, $20 million deal they wrapped Jay Ratliff up with in 2007.

Team-friendly deals don't happen without proper self-scouting and forward thinking on the part of the team.

Since signing his original extension, the nose tackle has been one of the most underpaid players in the league, and seen guys like Albert Haynesworth sign much more lucrative contracts despite making no more impact, and not being nearly the kind of team player Ratliff has been. He made the NFC Pro Bowl team in '08, has been back every year since, and was an All Pro in 2009.

Until 2010, he regularly displayed the ability to change games from the middle of the Cowboys' 3-4 scheme. Last season, though, things got more difficult for him. More and more teams schemed ways to take him out, including increased double-teams, and coming off surgery to both elbows, he wasn't at his best physically. His personal numbers dropped alongside those of the Cowboys' defense as a whole.

Ratliff had 7.5 sacks in '08 and 6.0 in '09, but just 3.5 in 2010.

He had six tackles for loss in '08, eight in '09, but none last year.

He had 31 quarterback pressures in '08, 33 in '09, but only 10 in 2010.

Most would agree Ratliff should have been in line for a raise because he had given the Cowboys more than they were paying for during these past three seasons. The question now becomes whether he'll be able to do that with his new contract, the five-year, $40 million pact signed Friday, which runs through 2017. At age 30 now, and coming off a down year, there's enough reasons to doubt Ratliff will see the end of the new agreement.

From the sound of front office whispers, however, the new deal will not hurt the Cowboys if Ratliff remains on the team through at least 2013. The nose tackle will receive $18 million guaranteed, and a significant enough portion of the payoff is front-loaded so that the Cowboys would not be handicapping their salary cap situation if forced to release him after that point.

The way Ratliff works off the field, and the competitor he is, there's very little risk of him relaxing now that he's gotten the biggest payday of his career. So while on its face the contract seems somewhat suspect - a lengthy extension for a player entering the point of his career at which most begin to decline - know that the Cowboys are not necessarily expecting him to see the last few years of the deal.

If nothing else, he'll get some of the back pay he deserves for 2008-10, and even if the worst case scenario comes true, the Cowboys won't be in awful cap shape. Make no mistake, the team would love it if he again outplays his contract.

If he plays like he did in '08 and '09, he will.

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