Over the past couple of years the Cowboys have gotten a lot more from nose tackle Jay Ratliff than they initially bargained for when they signed him to a five-year contract extension worth "only" $20.9 million in December 2007. That contract has Ratliff making a base base salary this season of $3.75 million and $4.87 million in 2012. Ratliff, who just turned 30 last week, would have been an unrestricted free agent after the 2012 season.
There is a broad consensus that the three-time Pro Bowler has outperformed his contract, and a little over a week ago Jerry Jones jokingly acknowledged that fact: "Jay Ratliff will tell you, 'You've got a big issue, Jerry, with my salary. I need a little more money.'"
Multiple reports today confirm that Ratliff and the Cowboys agreed to an extension worth $40 million over five years, with $18 million guaranteed and a $10 million signing bonus. What has many people scratching their heads is that those five years look like they'll be tacked on to the two remaining years of his current contract, thereby keeping Ratliff under contract with the Cowboys until the 2017 season, when he'll be approaching 37 years of age.
A large part of that deal, particularly the $10 million signing bonus, can probably be seen as a reward for past services, and there's nothing wrong with that in principle.
Ratliff's age must be of concern to the Cowboys though. Despite being voted to the Pro Bowl, Ratliff had a down year last year, at least according to his own lofty standards. After their recent experience with overpriced contracts for aging veterans, the Cowboys were likely wary of handing out another big contract extension to a 30+ year old player that could end up in more dead money down the line. Ratliff's contract is therefore likely structured in such a way as to ensure that the Cowboys retain their financial flexibility down the line.
But there may have also been another factor impacting the contract discussions. Another Pro Bowl defensive tackle with two years remaining on his contract, Buffalo's Kyle Williams, just signed a four-year, $30 million extension with $14 million in guaranteed money. Consider that as the likely floor for the contract talks with Ratliff. The Cowboys may have decided to move fast against that floor because they were afraid of where the ceiling for a quality NT could end up being in a few months. After all, there are two other quality nose tackles waiting to sign extensions in Miami's Paul Soliai (27) and Baltimore's Haloti Ngata (27), and neither of the two is going to come cheap.
If the Cowboys had waited for those two contracts to establish a ceiling for Ratliff, they may very well have ended up paying a lot more than they ended up paying.
All we can do now is hope that Rob Ryan scheme will allow Ratliff to once again become the dominating presence on the defensive line that the Cowboys missed so badly last year.