But things have since changed.
Ratliff, a 2005 seventh round draft choice out of Auburn by the Cowboys, has been somewhat of an overachiever throughout his career. Undersized and playing nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme, Ratliff – during his prime years – was one of the best in the game at his position. He used his strong base and quickness to play his way to four Pro Bowls – all consecutive from 2008-2011 – and an All-Pro selection in 2009. A traditional 4-3 tackle, Ratliff gave up a lot of size but was very productive.
However, ever since 2009, his stats have been on the decline. Despite being named a Pro Bowler in 2010 and 2011, he managed just 5.5 sacks combined in those two seasons. And last season, he dealt with an ankle injury, plantar fasciatis, and ultimately a sports hernia that had to be surgically repaired limited him to 10 games.
Coming into this year’s training camp and season, Ratliff is set to play defensive tackle in the new 4-3 defense, really his natural position and one that suits his physical makeup better.
Ratliff has been very good when he’s been healthy. But staying healthy is the problem. He is once again dealing with injuries – the latest a strained hamstring suffered in Saturday’s conditioning test that will keep him out a “couple of weeks” – and it is even more the reason the Cowboys should have released him in the spring.
Obviously, hindsight is 20/20. The team could not foresee another injury for Ratliff or for any other of their many players who are ailing at the moment, but when a guy’s production has steadily declined, it’s time for a change.
We see it all the time with other teams in the league. Veterans who have given their best years to a team are let go – whether it be because of a decline in production, or to preserve cap room. Charles Woodson was let go by the Green Bay Packers this offseason, and John Abraham, Dunta Robinson, and Michael Turner were cut from the Atlanta Falcons in salary cap moves as well.
The Cowboys had the opportunity to take Sharrif Floyd in the first round of this spring’s draft to be their future three-technique but opted not to, keeping Ratliff in hopes that he could revert back to somewhat Pro Bowl form this season playing his natural position.
His newest injury puts a little dent in the likelihood of that happening.
The team would have been better off getting rid of Ratliff when they could have this past spring.