In the early stages of the offseason, the Dallas Cowboys have made some surprising moves, and now face a new and difficult situation regarding Jay Ratliff. No matter what they do, however, you can be sure it will be criticized.
It has already been a rather tumultuous offseason for the Dallas Cowboys, starting with the openly stated policy of "uncomfortableness" created by owner/GM Jerry Jones. A good part of the staff has now been churned, while the incumbents in several remaining positions still wait for their fate to be decided. And the recent DUI arrest of nose tackle Jay Ratliff has given the team another headache. This one is really a lose/lose situation. Whichever way the team goes, there is an obvious negative side. And, this being the Cowboys, you can be sure the negative side will get most of the attention no matter what they decide.
The arguments on what to do are serious ones. Many have already called for Ratliff's head (much the way many were demanding Dez Bryant be kicked off the team after his domestic violence charge last summer). The arguments this time at least have a larger context, one that should be taken seriously. One typical column, written by Matt Mosely, calling for his dismissal combines both the arguments that can be made for his departure.
As much as I've liked and respected Ratliff over the years, it's time for him to go. From the football side of things, his body has taken such a pounding that you can't count on him to play a full season (missed 10 games in 2012). It would have been nice to see how he functioned in a scheme that didn't require him to face so many double-teams. But it's time to let another team handle Ratliff's image rehabilitation.
He's a disgruntled guy who further sullied a franchise that is still reeling from what happened with Josh Brent and the late Jerry Brown Jr. Jones began the offseason by saying he wanted to make folks uncomfortable at Valley Ranch.
Well, here's another chance, Jerry.
There is a lot of sense in that. But there are some other things to consider as well, especially if you are looking at things from the business side. Rainer Sabin points out some very uncomfortable truths about the unique business that is the NFL.
In most other industries, companies can impose whatever zero tolerance policies they want. They don't have to deal with payroll ceilings or complicated contracts that could affect their ability to function if the wrong decision is made.
But in the NFL that is not the case. The salary cap does enough to restrict teams. A zero tolerance policy on an offense like drunk driving could handicap clubs to an even greater degree. In the climate in which they operate, the Cowboys can't afford to institute a sweeping guideline that could impair their ability to compete.
It is a situation that almost no other employer faces. Under the sometimes arcane rules of the salary cap, cutting Ratliff penalizes the team. I can think of no other situation where there are built in negative incentives for terminating someone who has committed a criminal act. But for Dallas to do something that would have a positive message about accountability, they have to be willing to make themselves less competitive (assuming Ratliff could come in and contribute in the Kiffin 4-3). The rules about cap hits were designed at least partly to protect players from being cut just to lower costs, but they also make it hard to cut them even when there are good, valid reasons.
One way or another, the decision about Ratliff will hurt the team. It either takes a monetary blow by turning him loose or it looks hypocritical by retaining him after such a blatantly irresponsible act. Lose/lose.
It also is one that will be blown out of proportion and cast in a negative light, because this is the Dallas Cowboys. This offseason has shown in glaring detail how all things about the Cowboys will be seen as bad by so many that cover them. Right after Jones laid out his "uncomfortable" policy, I remember more than one comment made about how John Garrett should be no exception.
The only reason the elder Garrett brother wouldn't be in jeopardy of losing his job is the same reason he was hired in the first place: He happens to share bloodlines with the then-offensive coordinator/current head coach.
And yet when news came out that John Garrett was leaving the Cowboys to go to Tampa Bay, it was presented as one more piece of evidence that Jerry Jones was emasculating Jason Garrett. Of course, for the past couple of weeks, everything that has happened has been proof that the Cowboys have a head coach in name only, according to the commentary. Rob Ryan gets fired, that has to be Jerry Jones getting out of control. The many discussions about how he had not lived up to his own statements and did not deserve to keep the job were quickly forgotten.
During the season, Jason Garrett was roundly criticized by many for his inept play-calling. Bad time management at the end of games and the infamous "icing his own kicker" episode were presented as clear evidence that he should turn over the play-calling duties to a "real" offensive coordinator. But when that does happen, after apparent pressure from the owner/GM, no one talks about how the move solved a problem so many saw during the season. Instead they talked about how the GM was taking away his coach's manhood. The message seems to be that fixing a problem doesn't mean anything if it is Jerry Jones who is trying to fix it. If a move is seen as bad, it is made into a joke and parodied everywhere, the way Monte Kiffin's age was, and continues to be, mocked. If a move looks like it may be a bit of a coup, like bringing in Rod Marinelli to reunite with Kiffin, it seems to fade into silence rather quickly. And if there seems to be a chance that one move, like Kiffin's hire, made the next move happen, well, that gets very little play at all. It would, after all, imply some planning and intelligence in the process.
This will almost certainly be the way things play out around the Ratliff situation. Given all the ramifications cutting him would entail, the team should, by all lights, take some time to figure out how it wants to proceed. But that will certainly lead to criticism for not being proactive on the moral issues. And if they cut him quickly, then it will become another example of how the team is mismanaging the cap situation. One way or another, this will leave the team in a worse situation. Had the DUI not happened, then at least the decision might have been considered just on the merits of how much Ratliff could still contribute. But now any analysis of the move will be colored by his reckless and negligent behavior. In this case, it is no surprise that there is no good outcome for the Cowboys. The organization really cannot be blamed this time. This all came down to an individual's inability to learn from the mistakes of others. But the organization will still pay the price.