Most of us know about the thoughtless mistake Jay Ratliff made that resulted in a DWI not long after Josh Brent was arrested for the DWI that lead to the death of Cowboys practice squad player Jerry Brown. We also know about the shouting match that Ratliff had with Cowboys owner and GM, Jerry Jones. That’s just a couple of reasons many think Ratliff should be cut.
And, if Ratliff’s DWI causes him to be suspended for a few games by the NFL, no doubt there would be less wear and tear on his body, but he’s being paid to perform on the field. At thirty-one years of age, and with a big contract, the Cowboys are taking quite a risk keeping a player that missed ten games last season. And this offseason, more than any I can think of in the past, we are seeing teams part with their high wage veterans that are over thirty.
Now that’s not to say that there aren’t still takers for their services, even at their advanced football ages, but that is only because they are being signed to smaller and shorter contracts than the previous one. Likewise, some players in this situation are returning to the team they last played for, but for smaller contracts. Why the Cowboys didn’t play that kind of hardball with Ratliff I’m not sure, but they should have. This does not mean I believe today they made a mistake by keeping him, time will tell. What I do believe though, is that they are taking quite a risk and missed on a chance to save some big money.
Doug Free is another player whose performance does not match his pay. I guess I can understand keeping him around until they are certain the position has been upgraded, but they could and should demand he play for less. Of course, there might still be a strong possibility that the Cowboys cut him after June 1 and in that case, you wouldn’t want to rework his contract and then cut him.
Miles Austin is next on my list. There is no doubt he is going to be around this season, but he is being paid like the receiver that tore up the Kansas City Chiefs a few years ago and he hasn’t played like that since that season. Since then he has experienced difficulty with just staying on the field. Part of the recent reworking of his contract to free up some money should have included a pay cut.
OK, now on to Tony Romo. By including him in this column, I am not saying he is overpaid. The new contract is basically what the market for quarterbacks dictates. However, I am not sure how the NFL got themselves into the situation of paying one player about 15% of the maximum they are allowed to pay all fifty three players. But to say that Romo doesn’t deserve to be paid like a top quarterback because of his lack of playoff success misses the point. It’s a team game and Romo has not been surrounded by players that can help get them into the post season. How many passes would you throw up for grabs if you were running for your life just about every time you drop back to pass?
I am hopeful though that the Cowboys are able to shore up the offensive line with some additions from the draft. And while we are talking about contracts and the effects they have on team, it’s a luxury for the Washington Redskins to have a young and fairly inexpensive quarterback that is playing well at the pro level. It helps to mitigate the damage from the salary cap the rest of the teams (except for the Cowboys who are also being punished) decided to take from them. You can think the recent collective bargaining agreement for protecting teams from themselves when it comes to rookie pay.
And being able to draft a star player and keep his salary low for the first few years allows a team to spend more on other positions. That’s why the Seattle Seahawks are able to afford a great young QB like Russell Wilson and still have money to throw around in an attempt to upgrade other positions, as we have seen them do this year.
Bottom line is, now more than ever, with the ability to use the draft to select good young players at a low cost, a team has to be very successful with this process in order to keep from paying retail on the open market to fill holes on the team. That’s the kind of behavior that can handicap a team for many years.