IRVING, Texas– It doesn't matter whether the Cowboys play a 4-3 as expected, or the 3-4 defense, the position with the biggest question mark this offseason is defensive tackle.
Jay Ratliff is the latest Cowboys player to get arrested for a DWI, which occurred last week. It was revealed Monday that Ratliff's blood-alcohol content was more than double the legal limit in Texas. His backup for three seasons, Josh Brent, is facing possible jail time after being charged with vehicular manslaughter for a drunk-driving incident that killed teammate Jerry Brown on Dec. 8.
The Cowboys made their first comments concerning the Ratliff situation on Monday, releasing a statement from consultant Calvin Hill, a former running back from 1969-74, who has worked with in the player development staff for the last decade.
Having recently experienced the most tragic of circumstances regarding this issue, we, as an organization, understand the ultimate consequences of driving while impaired.*
We know that one incident is too many. The critical goal is to affect the decision-making process in the hours before the wrong decision is made.
*Our player assistance programs in the areas of preventing incidents such as these are at the highest level in professional sports, but we are always looking to do better and for ways to improve. We will continue to draw upon the best expertise and resources available, both internally and from outside the organization, to work toward being the best in the areas of education, prevention and affecting the right decisions. *
*We have been in communication with Jay Ratliff regarding this incident, and we will monitor the legal process and work within the NFL guidelines for player behavior moving forward.
Obviously, the statement expresses the Cowboys' concern with these last two incidents and the intent to prevent this from becoming even more of a pattern.
From a football standpoint, it also hints that the Cowboys' intend to keep Ratliff in the mix next year.
Even before his Jan. 21 arrest, his future with the club was in question due to the combination of him being 32 years of age before next season, the fact he missed 10 games with two different injuries, his face-to-face altercation with owner Jerry Jones in the locker room and his high-priced salary vs. his production. Still, it's possible Ratliff could remain on the team.
In the six games he played in 2012, Ratliff had 10 quarterback pressures, which was still good enough to rank fourth on the team behind DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher. He missed the first four games of the season with a high-ankle sprain he suffered in the preseason, which followed a foot injury that plagued him for most of camp.
After he played six straight games, Ratliff developed a groin issue that later required sports hernia surgery, forcing him to miss the final six games.
In the middle of those six weeks, Ratliff and Jones had a heated exchange in the locker room following the Cowboys' 38-33 win over the Eagles on Dec. 9. Eyewitnesses said the two had to be separated and the argument stemmed from Jones' attempt to encourage Ratliff to get healthy and return to the field for the final month of the season.
After that incident, Ratliff wasn't around much at Valley Ranch and wasn't one of the injured players who made the final road trip to Washington. The Cowboys took several players who were on IR for support in the do-or-die game with the Redskins. Ratliff was actually still on the 53-man roster since the Cowboys chose to leave him there in case they made a playoff run.
Last week from the Senior Bowl, Jones was asked about Ratliff's future. That question occurred before the news had broke about Ratliff's arrest, although Jones had already been informed of the incident.
"As far as I'm concerned, he is outstanding. He has given everything he's ever had to the Dallas Cowboys," Jones said of Ratliff. "With me, any of that emotion that was involved between us is only reflected back on the many times that we've had in our own way some emotional time with each other.
"And it in no way before was it ever contentious, so when you've got the kind of background we've got together, then if you have a moment that you might not have been on the same page, that's like father-son, that's like family, that's like all that. That's forgotten when you know each other has your best interests at heart. We both know that."
If Ratliff is waived before June 1, the Cowboys would save about $1 million on the cap. If they cut him after June 1 or at least designated him as a June 1 cut, meaning he could be cut after the Super Bowl, but his roster wouldn't come off the books until June 1, the Cowboys could save about $5 million on the cap this year, but then would get a $4 million hit next season.
As for Brent, Jerry Jones said just last week he's not closing the door on having Brent back next year. He said the legal system will obviously dictate the status of Brent, who could be facing up to 20 years in prison. "My thinking has been dictated by the legal process, so until we know more about timing, status, how that's resolved there, then I won't even think about where he is as far as his career is concerned," Jones said. "We'll see. We have to, and that involves ultimately league matters as well, and more importantly, where he is in the justice system."