IRVING, Texas – It doesn’t matter whether the Cowboys play a 4-3 as expected, or the 3-4 defense, the position with the biggest question mark this offseason is defensive tackle.
Jay Ratliff is the latest Cowboys player to get arrested for a DWI, which occurred last week. It was revealed Monday that Ratliff’s blood-alcohol content was more than double the legal limit in Texas. His backup for three seasons, Josh Brent, is facing possible jail time after being charged with vehicular manslaughter for a drunk-driving incident that killed teammate Jerry Brown on Dec. 8.
The Cowboys made their first comments concerning the Ratliff situation today (Monday), releasing a statement from consultant Calvin Hill, a former running back from 1969-74, who has worked with in the player development staff for the last decade.
Dallas Cowboys statement:
Having recently experienced the most tragic of circumstances regarding this issue, we, as an organization, understand the ultimate consequences of driving while impaired.
We know that one incident is too many. The critical goal is to affect the decision-making process in the hours before the wrong decision is made.
Our player assistance programs in the areas of preventing incidents such as these are at the highest level in professional sports, but we are always looking to do better and for ways to improve. We will continue to draw upon the best expertise and resources available, both internally and from outside the organization, to work toward being the best in the areas of education, prevention and affecting the right decisions.
We have been in communication with Jay Ratliff regarding this incident, and we will monitor the legal process and work within the NFL guidelines for player behavior moving forward.
Obviously, the statement expresses the Cowboys’ concern with these last two incidents and the intent to prevent this from becoming even more of a pattern.
From a football standpoint, it also hints that the Cowboys’ intend to keep Ratliff in the mix next year.
Even before his Jan. 21 arrest, his future with the club was in question due to the combination of him being 32 years of age before next season, the fact he missed 10 games with two different injuries, his face-to-face altercation with owner Jerry Jones in the locker room and his high-priced salary vs. his production. Still, it’s possible Ratliff could remain on the team.
In the six games he played in 2012, Ratliff had 10 quarterback pressures, which was still good enough to rank fourth on the team behind DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher. He missed the first four games of the season with a high-ankle sprain he suffered in the preseason, which followed a foot injury that plagued him for most of camp.
After he played six straight games, Ratliff developed a groin issue that later required sports hernia surgery, forcing him to miss the final six games.
In the middle of those six weeks, Ratliff and Jones had a heated exchange in the locker room following the Cowboys’ 38-33 win over the Eagles on Dec. 9. Eyewitnesses said the two had to be separated and the argument stemmed from Jones’ attempt to encourage Ratliff to get healthy and return to the field for the final month of the season.
After that incident, Ratliff wasn’t around much at Valley Ranch and wasn’t one of the injured players who made the final road trip to Washington. The Cowboys took several players who were on IR for support in the do-or-die game with the Redskins. Ratliff was actually still on the 53-man roster since the Cowboys chose to leave him there in case they made a playoff run.
Last week from the Senior Bowl, Jones was asked about Ratliff’s future. That question occurred before the news had broke about Ratliff’s arrest, although Jones had already been informed of the incident.
“As far as I’m concerned, he is outstanding. He has given everything he’s ever had to the Dallas Cowboys,” Jones said of Ratliff. “With me, any of that emotion that was involved between us is only reflected back on the many times that we’ve had in our own way some emotional time with each other.
“And it in no way before was it ever contentious, so when you’ve got the kind of background we’ve got together, then if you have a moment that you might not have been on the same page, that’s like father-son, that’s like family, that’s like all that. That’s forgotten when you know each other has your best interests at heart. We both know that.”
If Ratliff is waived before June 1, the Cowboys would save about $1 million on the cap. If they cut him after June 1 or at least designated him as a June 1 cut, meaning he could be cut after the Super Bowl, but his roster wouldn’t come off the books until June 1, the Cowboys could save about $5 million on the cap this year, but then would get a $4 million hit next season.
As for Brent, Jerry Jones said just last week he’s not closing the door on having Brent back next year. He said the legal system will obviously dictate the status of Brent, who could be facing up to 20 years in prison.
“My thinking has been dictated by the legal process, so until we know more about timing, status, how that’s resolved there, then I won’t even think about where he is as far as his career is concerned,” Jones said. “We’ll see. We have to, and that involves ultimately league matters as well, and more importantly, where he is in the justice system.”
ETERNAL CONFIDENENCE: From Pro Bowl, Jason Witten displays optimism for the 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys
Last year, it was Jason Witten who told reporters before the start of training camp that it “can’t be the same’ ol story” in 2012.
In reality, it was the sequel to 2011, about as similar as Hangover and Hangover 2. And now the Cowboys must figure out how to cure this hangover as well this year and not go down another 8-8 road where they miss the playoffs on the final week of the season.
At the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, a game that seemed to have better quality of play this year although it was still a scoring-fest, Witten wasn’t a big factor in the NFC’s 62-35 win. He had two catches for 12 yards as one of two Cowboys in the game. Anthony Spencer, playing most as a linebacker in a 4-3 scheme and wasn’t allowed to blitz, had a pair of tackles. Actually, Witten’s backup in the game, Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph, won MVP honors with five catches for 122 yards and a touchdown.
But after the game, Witten was asked about the Cowboys’ chances of turning things around this year. And like always, the eternal optimist sounded confident – not only that things can get better next year, but the right people are in place.
In one 30-second answer on the field, Witten referenced the three people who have been taken the most criticism in the last year and last few seasons as well.
“Well it’s any time you don’t make the playoffs, it’s challenging,” Witten said. “I think we have a great head coach in Jason Garrett, and obviously great ownership – the Jones family – you trust they’re going to get you back to the top. It’s a commitment. It’s a tough league. But we have the right people – great leader in Tony (Romo). Hopefully we’ll bounce back and be better in 2013.”
At least Witten shares the same sentiments as most fans and critics of this team. The simple reference “bounce back” after an 8-8 season suggests 2012 wasn’t just a year that had some good and some bad. It’s a year where the Cowboys simply failed to get to their destination – once again.
He calls Romo a “great leader” but it’s Witten, and that attitude, is something these Cowboys need to adopt and follow.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell threatened to cancel future Pro Bowls if the players didn’t pick up the effort. He got his wish — for the most part.
The NFC won 62-35 and the game didn’t have any blatant episodes of guys loafing like the 2012 version. Part of that can be attributed to Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who spoke to the entire group of participants (see article below) and called the last two years “unacceptable.”
“Peyton said some things and guys took it personal,” Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said during a sideline interview.
New York Giants star receiver Victor Cruz agreed.
“It was a little more high intensity than in years’ past,” he said. “It really did feel like a real game out there. People were hitting. It wasn’t touch football; guys were laying some licks. It had the energy of a real game. My body feels like it just went through a real game.”
Peterson’s teammate, Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, was named Pro Bowl MVP after catching five balls for 122 yards during a second-quarter stretch when the NFC pulled away.
There were a few questionable moments. Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil pulled up when he had a blindside shot to sack Saints quarterback Drew Brees at one point. But there were also hustle moments. Saints punter Thomas Morstead chased down Chiefs safety Eric Berry from behind and was carried into the end zone during an interception return after a botched field-goal attempt. There were even a few solid hits.
Goodell got what he wanted. Defenders actually tackled. No one was injured. There was a reverse on a kick return and a trick onside kick. Watt even got bloody early in the game.
“It definitely was better, especially compared to last few years,” said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, who played in a record-tying 12th Pro Bowl. “That’s all they (NFL decision-makers) really want to see. It felt more like a real game. No one let people run past them.”
The overall feeling was that Sunday was a marked improvement from recent Pro Bowls.
Kareem Copeland | NFL.com Around the League Writer