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Jay Ratliff: A Retrospective

Not many former seventh-round draft picks go on to earn All-Pro status and multiple trips to the Pro Bowl; today we take a moment to reflect on the career of one who did.

Jim Rogash

They say to be careful what you ask for because you just might get it. Yesterday I penned a post regarding the future of Jay Ratliff with the Dallas Cowboys. In that I called for the team to find a solution for the discord that surrounded the relationship between player and team. As you now know from our editor Dave Halprin's breaking news post the team has done just that. Jay Ratliff is no longer a Dallas Cowboy, and we, as fans, are left with memories of a player who, over the course of his career, brought credit to the star.

Jason Jeremiah Ratliff joined the Dallas Cowboys as the team's seventh-round selection during the 2005 NFL Draft. He was the 224th man selected that season. A product of Auburn University, Ratliff originally joined the Tigers as a tight end before moving to the defensive line prior to his sophomore season. For that year and his junior season, Rat manned a defensive end slot before moving inside to defensive tackle for his senior year. Along the way he earned an SEC Championship and his team finished as the runner up to USC in the final Associated Press poll during his final year at Auburn. Undersized for his position, Ratliff was not considered a likely prospect for further football success and he was not invited to the NFL Combine.

Fortunately for Jay, and the Dallas Cowboys, one man saw a future for the young player. That man was Jerry Jones, owner of the Cowboys. Like many down roster guys, he made his first contributions to the team as a reserve player and member of the Dallas special teams units. Initially Jay saw duty in the Cowboys "nickel" package as a situational pass rusher; he made his first career start on October 9, 2005 when the Dallas defense opened in the nickel. In what now seems to be a touch of irony on behalf of the football gods, the Cowboys opponent that week was the Philadelphia Eagles. Just a few weeks after making that start, Ratliff was placed on injured reserve. All told, during his rookie season, Rat accounted for a total of four tackles and one sack during four appearances for the Cowboys.

The 2006 season was a coming out party of sorts for Ratliff. He appeared in 15 games that season as a regular part of the defensive line rotation. A tough and aggressive player who was able to use his quickness to knife into an opponent's backfield, Ratliff was frequently able to flush quarterbacks from the pocket. In rotational service that year, he finished third on the team with four sacks and also added seven QB pressures which tied him for the most among Dallas defenders. He also finished second in the league in fumble recoveries. The Rat had begun to show the ability that Jerry Jones had believed him to possess.

A season-ending injury to starting nose tackle Jason Ferguson forced Jay Ratliff into the starting slot. For the late-round draft pick there would be no looking back. Starting 14 games that season, his performance was enough to convince the team that the formerly highly-coveted Ferguson was an expendable commodity. As an undersized but incredibly strong nose tackle Jay Ratliff turned in a 30 tackle, three sack season for the Cowboys and he was rewarded for his efforts with a five year contract extension worth $20.5 million dollars. He also became the unquestioned starter at his position.

Making the most of his opportunity, Ratliff earned his first of four Pro Bowl trips for the 2008 season. It was a year that saw him account for a total of 51 tackles, 30 of which were solo efforts; to that he added 7.5 sacks. Both markers were career highs for him. The trip to Hawaii would be the first of four consecutive Pro Bowl honors that he would earn. The 2009 season, for which he would also earn All Pro honors, was a season of dominance for Ratliff, even though it was not his best statistical season, it was perhaps his best as a pro. Although his impact that season reached beyond his numbers, Ratliff recorded 40 tackles (29 solo) and added another six sacks to his body of work. During his last two full seasons in Dallas, he continued to perform at a high level although his numbers had started to taper off as time began its inevitable toll on his body. In 2010 he would account for 31 tackles and 3.5 sacks and the following year he would add an additional 38 tackles and he sacked the quarterback twice. Both efforts, along with the respect of his colleagues around the NFL, led to his final two invitations to represent the NFC at the Pro Bowl.

In what would turn out to be his final active season wearing the blue and silver, Jay Ratliff played in only six games, although during that time he did account for 16 tackles for the Dallas defense. When the figures are tallied together, the former seventh-round draft pick out of Auburn played in a total of 104 games during his time as a Cowboy. Along the way he chipped in 228 tackles, 158 of which were solo efforts. He also recorded 27 sacks while a member of the Cowboys defensive line and he is credited with 16 passes defensed. Unfortunately this season and his time in Dallas were cut short by a groin injury; the former Pro Bowler also spent the season dealing with the effects of an ankle injury that had impacted his performance as well.

While it is now clear that the 2011 contract extension, worth $40 million dollars, that was intended to secure Ratliff's services through the 2017 season was a bad move; it is my fervent hope that fans choose not to remember Jay Ratliff for the bad deal that was made. At the very least, that should be laid at the feet of the same man who originally saw something that he liked in the defensive lineman. Though the relationship has suffered in the recent past, Jay Ratliff was a warrior who went to battle for the Dallas Cowboys every time he suited up. When I think back over his career, the memory that I will take with me is one of # 90 pounding the playing surface in celebration of a sack or tackle for a loss. Over his career, Ratliff went to war on behalf of his team and his fans, and when we look back on his time in Dallas, we should remember the once proud warrior, who is now unable to take the field, with reflections of pride in his accomplishments.

With our thanks for what you did for our beloved Cowboys, we the community of Blogging The Boys bid you farewell, Mr. Ratliff. May you look back on your time in Dallas with memories of the good times that were, and not the bad that recently have been.

Statement from Jay released to the Star Telegram:

"First let me say thank you to the Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones for taking a chance on me in 2005. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Cowboys and it was always my desire to begin and end my career here in Dallas. But I understand this business and now it's time to move on, turn the page and begin again.

To all my teammates, I want to wish them nothing but the best. Stay strong, keep fighting and always believe. I'm sorry I couldn't be there for you, but I will always support you and value our time together.

And to all the Cowboy fans, I want to say it was an honor to play for you. Cowboy fans are the best fans in the NFL and I thank each and every one of you for the support and love you have shown to me these past 9 years. I will miss you."

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