The complicated case of Jay Ratliff

January, 28, 2013
1/28/13
1:25
PM ET
One of the big stories last week when I was off was the drunken-driving arrest of Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Jay Ratliff. You guys know, if you read this blog regularly, that I have no patience for the ludicrously selfish crime of drunken driving or the NFL knuckleheads who engage in it in spite of ample available alternatives. Obviously, when I learned that Ratliff had been arrested for this crime a mere six weeks after teammate and friend Josh Brent was charged with intoxication manslaughter in the crash that killed friend and teammate Jerry Brown, my first reaction was that Ratliff has to rank among the biggest fools on the planet.

I also think the Cowboys should get rid of him, which is an opinion I have seen espoused in several places since the arrest and one that wasn't even ridiculous to ponder before he was arrested. Ratliff is going to be 32 when the 2013 season starts. He's coming off a poor, injury-plagued season. And the cap-strapped Cowboys can save $1 million against the salary cap if they cut him by June 1.

Ratliff
Jean-Jacques Taylor's latest column at ESPNDallas.com, however, asks us to push the pause button on the cut-Ratliff talk and make sure we're citing the proper reasons. Jacques thinks that while there may be perfectly good reasons to cut Ratliff, the drunken-driving arrest can't be the only one.
It's certainly a privilege, not a right, to play in the NFL, but Ratliff doesn't have a history of off-the-field issues. As far as we know, this is Ratliff's first alcohol-related incident and arrest.

Besides, would we be so willing to get rid of Ratliff if he hadn't missed 10 games to injury last season? What if his sack total hadn't decreased each of the past five years from a high of 7.5 in 2008 to none last year?

Would you want Tony Romo gone if he had committed the same dumb mistake? What about Sean Lee? DeMarcus Ware?

Good and worthy points. But my counter-argument is that Ratliff's arrest is perfectly acceptable, especially given the proximity in time to the Brent/Brown incident, as a final straw. Ratliff is aging. He is underperforming. He had it out with team owner Jerry Jones in the locker room late in the season. And now this. There is a good, strong, multi-layered case to be made that the Cowboys would be better off without this guy, and last week's arrest necessarily plays in as part of that case.

This, late in Jacques' column, did catch my eye and is worth noting:
Just so you know, among the reasons the Cowboys are moving to this scheme is they believe it will help Ratliff maximize his talent. Instead of being an undersized nose tackle who gets double-teamed every play, he can play on the outside shoulder of the guard and use his unique speed and quickness to make plays.

Fair enough, and changing your defensive alignment in an effort to maximize the talents and contributions of your players is a sensible way to go. (More sensible, for instance, than what they're doing in Philadelphia, where they have good 4-3 personnel and appear to be going to a 3-4.) But the Cowboys surely could use Jason Hatcher and Sean Lissemore as defensive tackles next season and sign a starting defensive end if they can't bring back Anthony Spencer. Or they could sign a defensive tackle and play Hatcher at end. Their scheme change isn't married to the idea of Ratliff and his position change, especially if they can't count on Ratliff to be as reliable and productive as he's been in the past.

The Cowboys need fewer headaches, not more. And they certainly need fewer drunk drivers. The very strong stance they'd be taking if they say good bye to Ratliff isn't the only reason to do it. It's just the latest, and possibly the last one they needed.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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