IRVING — The Dallas Cowboys suffered another blow on Thursday when nose tackle Jay Ratliff underwent what could be season-ending surgery to repair a sports hernia.
Ratliff, 31, has already missed seven games this season, including the past three with a groin injury. He was no closer to getting on the field Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers and opted to fly to Philadelphia for the surgery.
Ratliff has yet to be placed on injured reserve. But it’s unlikely he will be able to play again this season. The Cowboys have three regular-season games left and may have to win all three to have a shot at the playoffs.
Ratliff, who missed the first four games of the season with a high ankle sprain, becomes the fifth defensive starter to be sidelined for the season with injury — joining linebackers Bruce Carter and Sean Lee, safety Barry Church and defensive end Kenyon Coleman, who are already on injured reserve. Add nickel cornerback Orlando Scandrick and the Cowboys’ defense is without six primary contributors.
Ratliff’s surgery further complicates an already compromised situation at nose tackle, considering that his primary replacement, Josh Brent was placed on the reserve/non-football injury/illness list on Wednesday. Brent is facing an intoxication manslaughter charge as a result of Saturday’s one-car accident that killed practice-squad linebacker Jerry Brown.
Sean Lissemore moved from defensive end to start at nose tackle against Cincinnati on Sunday. He will start against Pittsburgh. Robert Callaway, signed off the practice squad Saturday, and Brian Schaefering, who signed off the street Wednesday, will be the backups.
Ratliff’s surgery comes less than two weeks after he had a verbal altercation with owner Jerry Jones in the locker room following the Philadelphia game. Jones reportedly said, "We need you," and Ratliff took offense, thinking his desire to play was being questioned.
Ratliff got in Jones’ face but was pulled away.
Jones has since called it a regrettable situation where the emotions of the game got the best of both parties.
Time will tell if the events of the past two weeks impact Ratliff’s future with the Cowboys, who may face a decision on whether to release him after this season, his eighth with the team.
Ratliff had 25 tackles, one tackle for loss and 10 quarterback pressures in six games this season but with no sacks, marking a decline in his sack numbers for a fifth straight season. Ratliff signed a five-year extension for $40 million in 2011, with $17.5 million guaranteed. He is set to count $7 million against the cap next season.
RELATED: Dallas Cowboys will keep Ratliff on active roster
The Cowboys are going to keep nose tackle Jay Ratliff on the active roster to give him a chance to come back in time for postseason, if the Cowboys get there.
“We’re going to give him every opportunity to stay on the 53 and be part of our football team,” coach Jason Garrett said Friday morning at his press briefing at Valley Ranch. “He’s an outstanding player. He’s dealt with a lot of injuries this year. But when he played, he played very well.”
Ratliff underwent surgery Thursday to repair a sports hernia. The Cowboys expect a recovery in three to six weeks.
“He was just having a hard time functioning,” Garrett said. “He went out to the practice field on a couple of different occasions, trying to do something, and he just really couldn’t do it. We got the opinion from the doctor up in Philadelphia. We felt like that was the best thing to do for him. Hopefully that will get him right and get him back on the road to recovery.”
Ratliff had not played since the Cleveland game on Nov. 18, nearly four weeks ago.
Asked if the team regrets not turning to surgery earlier, Garrett said, “I think what you want to do in all situations is to exhaust every opportunity before surgery, with anybody, in any circumstance. You don’t want to prematurely do surgery. You want to make sure he has a chance to heal properly with his normal rehab. And we felt like we exhausted all those opportunities, and we felt like this was the best thing to do at this time.”