ARLINGTON, Texas – It looked for all the world that there had finally been a break in the curious case of Jay Ratliff.
NBC sideline reporter Michele Tafoya spoke with Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones about the Pro Bowl defensive tackle on Sunday ahead of the Cowboys' primetime game against Washington. Based on talking to Jones, Tafoya was not confident that Ratliff would be returning to the team's roster this week after his six-week stay on the Physically Unable to Perform List.
Said Tafoya: "My interpretation, based on Jerry Jones' body language and his tone, is that Jay Ratliff will not be playing for the Cowboys anymore."
In the scrum of the Cowboys' post-win locker room, though, Jones said he wasn't ready to agree with Tafoya's assessment.
"I'm not familiar with that report. I didn't hear it. Our plans are to visit, not only with him but medical and see what we're going to do with our timing on any PUP or IR considerations," Jones said. "But we've still got a lot of work and decisions to make. But I didn't hear that report."
It's just the latest twist in a long and winding road for Ratliff in the past year. The eight-year veteran missed 10 games in 2012 with a litany of injuries, and injury issues have followed him into 2013. Ratliff missed all of the Cowboys' summer training camp with a hamstring injury, reportedly suffered during his pre-camp conditioning test. When the team's preseason ended, Ratliff was placed on the PUP, making him ineligible through the first six games.
The Cowboys' 31-16 win against Washington on Sunday night got them through the first six weeks with a 3-3 mark, but Ratliff's future doesn't seem any clearer. Jones said those conversations will start happening this week as Dallas prepares for a road game against Philadelphia.
"Let's just see how the week goes and see where we are," he said. "We're looking at what the prospects are of him being active, and we just have to see how that goes. I think I'll have a better, more accurate reading on that for you as the week goes on."
That seems hard to believe based on recent history, however. The Cowboys haven't been able to clearly update Ratliff's injury status since training camp, and the veteran hasn't been much of a presence around the team's Valley Ranch training facility. Despite that, Jones said the Cowboys have been in contact with Ratliff on a consistent basis, and he added that Ratliff will be present at the facility in the coming week.
"We're communicating. He's in and out – we have communication," Jones said. "But it's not that type of issue with him – in any way not being what we want him to be. We want him to be healthy, and he wants to be healthy. But we've got to take a look at his progress."
Jones said it's not that uncommon for veteran players to rehab from injuries away from the day-to-day activities of the team – provided they're communicating with the coaching staff. Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders and Pro Bowl tight end Jay Novacek are two "name players" Jones listed as doing such.
"Deion did that some. Deion did that when he was here – had combinations of trainers and workouts," Jones said. "But he recognized the order of things and recognized the need to do it on a team basis. But we've had several name players that would show that they respected what the coaches want and respected what we want, but they would also go at their own pace with strength and conditioning. Novacek was one of them."
However murky the situation has been this season, Jones said the Cowboys have some decisions to make this week – decisions that may bring some clarity to the issue, with Ratliff or without him.
"We're going to kind of look at a lot of things here this week, and probably have something to give everybody a better direction on," he said. "You have a right to know, don't get me wrong, but we've just got to decide what we're going to do in the short and the long term."