The author of "America's Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys," Jeff also writes a new column each week in Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click here.
This much now appears obvious: Jay Ratliff, at some point and time, decided he was no longer playing for the Dallas Cowboys. This could've been last December, following a heated exchange with owner/GM Jerry Jones in the locker room after a game, although there have been rumors that wasn't the last verbal sparring session the two had, with the most recent coming just weeks before the Cowboys released Ratliff on Oct. 16.
Either way, or whether Ratliff decided last December or since, this story isn't about injuries. Well, maybe it's a little about injuries, but that's not the crux of what has become a soap opera and is likely far from concluded, with Jones saying the day following Ratliff's release that he couldn't comment further because "this has now become a legal matter."
And you know what, it should. This absolutely should be a legal matter. There is no way Ratliff should be paid for what has taken place in 2013, which was slated to be the first season under his five-year, $40 million extension signed back in 2011. Of course, Ratliff was given the signing bonus two years ago, so he was paid approximately $18 million without having played a single snap under the new deal.
We can debate the rush to extend a 30-year-old interior lineman with a lot of wear and tear on two seasons before his current deal was up another time and place. Not really part of this story. Would like to review what we at least think we know:
1) The team steps up and gives Ratliff a more than generous extension with two years remaining on his deal. Compare this to Jason Hatcher, who is playing at an All-Pro level and is barely making the league average this season. His contract expires at season's end. The team and Jones could not have treated Ratliff any better. Most assumed the extension was also done in the hopes of keeping Ratliff satisfied on and off the field. He wasn't exactly the easiest personality at Valley Ranch over his career.
2) Do want to point this out before progressing. From the first day of training camp through the season, Ratliff was oftentimes the last player on the practice field, having his position coaches push him through extra reps. No one has ever questioned his work ethic for a nanosecond.
3) OK, so he's limited to just six games in 2012 and has surgery in December. The team believed it was for a sports hernia, which should have entailed a three-to-six week recovery, meaning Ratliff should have been 100 percent for OTAs. Ratliff's agent, Mark Slough, says the injury was much more severe, with muscle being torn from the bone, and that Ratliff's recovery would take about a year. He also stated that the Cowboys knew the situation all along. This is where the story becomes really bizarre, Twilight Zone stuff really. Take a deep breath, here we go.
4) Ratliff is arrested in January for driving while intoxicated after crashing his pickup truck into an 18-wheeler. According to police, no one was injured. [embedded_ad]
5) The Cowboys, who according to Slough, knew Ratliff would be out the entire season, plan their new Tampa 2 scheme for the 2013 campaign with Ratliff as one of the two starting tackles. He was seen sporadically working out at Valley Ranch during the offseason. He then took part in the conditioning test the first day of camp, during which he pulled a hamstring. The injury was cited as day-to-day by the team and Ratliff was seen running on the field the following day in Oxnard. That would be 11 weeks before the team released him because Ratliff still wasn't healthy. At least that's what Ratliff and his agent were saying.
6) Then, in a move which hardly surprised anyone, Ratliff was medically cleared to work out for NFL teams on Oct. 23. As in a week after being released because he physically couldn't play for the Cowboys and, oh yeah, two months before his agent claimed he would be recovered from surgery. Ratliff also wants and believes he can play for an NFL team this season, as early as November.
So what are we to conclude from this mess? Well, first off, Ratliff didn't want to be here any longer, that appears clear and you know what, let him go. I'm glad the Cowboys released him. This team has legitimate chemistry right now and he would have been a cancer in the locker room if he chose to stick around. Also, if a player doesn't want to be here, I for one don't want him here.
However, he shouldn't be paid a nickel, never mind millions of dollars for not wanting to play for the team with which he was under contract and then constructing a path out of town amidst a bunch of lies. That is unacceptable. Ratliff is gone and the Cowboys are better off. As for the money and the cap space in 2014, we just have to allow the legal process to play out.