Fans and Media have been speculating the future of certain Dallas Cowboys since the conclusion of the season. Jay Ratliff, Doug Free and Miles Austin, headline the list of possible cap casualties in these coming weeks and months. Whether Doug Free stays or goes, the offensive line will need to be overhauled or at the least, built up. The WR corps seems to have depth and potential (albeit unproven) so the future of Austin is also of modest importance comparatively speaking. The most important decision to make revolves around Jay Ratliff and the Defensive Tackle positions. With no Josh Brent (incarceration) the Cowboys only have two proven DT’s in Jay Ratliff and Sean Lissemore. Sean Lissemore was signed to a team friendly contract (5yrs/7.17M) last season so his status is safe but the same cannot be said for Ratliff.
December 17, 2011; Tampa, FL, USA; Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff (90) prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
After an injury plagued season in which he allegedly assaulted team owner, Jerry Jones, the future for Ratliff was already in question. Now, after a scheme change and an idiotic DWI arrest, Ratliff seems like a surefire casualty.
Rat just completed year 2 of his 7 year deal but the last two years are examples of phony money, years in which no money is guaranteed. The contract should then be seen as a 5 year contract with three years remaining. If Rat is cut this year, before June 1, he would count $6M against the cap. That figure would be split evenly across the 2013 and 2014 seasons if he was cut after June 1. If the Cowboys decided to keep him for those 3 remaining (real) years he would cost $7M, $7.5M, and $9M respectively.
Since the DT position is already thin can the Cowboys afford to cut Ratliff? His skills are declining with age and he seems like he may be more trouble than worth, but can the Cowboys really afford to cut a DT before they hold a replacement?
No team wants to enter the NFL Draft with major needs at a specific position. A situation like that forces a team to pick for need rather than pick best player available. If the Cowboys cut Ratliff now, they will have to either acquire an impact player from free agency or the draft. Considering how thin they are, probably both. That means overpaying in free agency and reaching in the draft. That is a recipe for disaster.
Nov 4, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws a pass under pressure from Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff (90) in the first half at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Keeping Ratliff and taking a wait and see approach really seems like the most logical move at this point. The next few weeks expect the Cowboys to be restructuring deals to free up salary cap space. They will then have an opportunity to add to the roster when free agency begins. Don’t expect a major splash. If they are unable to acquire a DT in free agency they will have another opportunity to grow from the draft.
Operating from a position of power rather than need also enables them to navigate the trade market. Teams are always looking to deal around draft time when they value picks the most. If another team has a wealth of options at DT, one could be had for cheap on draft day. If the trading team sees the Cowboys are in desperate need, they hold the power and would drive up the price.
Ratliff occupies an important, and thin, position on the Dallas Cowboys defense. Cutting him early in the offseason will prove to be costly in free agency, the Draft, and any potential trade market. If the Cowboys hold onto Ratliff until all other replacement avenues have been exhausted, they can avoid making decisions based on desperation. It will also spread the cap hit into 2014 giving the Cowboys a little more cash to play with in 2013.
Heck, they may not find suitable replacement this offseason. Ratliff might even step up and be the player he used to be. These are all the precise reasons the Cowboys MUST keep Ratliff – for now…
Note: this January 1st article regarding off season cap casualties and their salary cap impact here: “Breaking Bad”.