On Thursday, Jay Ratliff will spend his 32nd birthday rehabbing on the Dallas Cowboys' physically unable to perform list. The start of the 2013 NFL regular season will be a week-and-a-half away, but Ratliff will not have practiced since the spring thanks to a pesky hamstring injury.
It's gloomy. The four-time Pro Bowler missed 10 games last season due to two separate injuries—first a high-ankle sprain, later a hernia—and his play was already beginning to decline before that.
He showed some serious wear and tear down the stretch in 2011, too, and it doesn't bode well that he's suffered five different injuries to five completely different body parts dating back to December of 2011.
Only two weeks ago, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones sounded confident that the veteran defensive lineman would be ready at the start of the regular season.
"I’m not concerned about him playing at the level that we’d expect to open the season," Jones told Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com.
But Jones was singing a very different tune after Ratliff missed his fourth straight preseason game this past weekend.
“It’s certainly more of a possibility than I would've ever thought two to three weeks ago," Jones told 105.3 The Fan on Tuesday (h/t CBS Dallas/Fort Worth) regarding Ratliff's chances of starting the season on the PUP list. "But we’ve got to look at the next two weeks, carefully look at his progress over the next two weeks.”
A PUP status to start the year would require Ratliff to miss the first six games of the regular season. The momentum probably favors that happening, because Jones doesn't eat his own words easily.
You'd have to think that Jones is also regretting giving Ratliff a seven-year, $49 million deal in the fall of 2011. He's been a complete bust on that contract and now has lost his ability to stay on the field.
The right approach for the Cowboys would be to assume Ratliff can't be relied on.
Frankly, I'm surprised he's still on the roster. The Cowboys could have saved $1 million by cutting him by June 1. He was already plagued by injuries at that point and had provided the icing on the cake by being charged with drunk driving soon after the tragic Josh Brent incident.
According to Mike Fisher of 105.3 The Fan, Ratliff also mouthed off to Jones in the locker room in December.
However, this is a business and Jones has refused to give up. That's fine, I suppose. Crazier revivals have taken place, and Ratliff represents quite the financial investment at a position that isn't exactly flush with talent and depth.
Fellow starting defensive tackle Jason Hatcher is also hurt right now, while starting defensive end and reigning team sack leader Anthony Spencer continues to recover from knee surgery.
Both of those linemen should be back in September, maybe even Week 1. The Dallas defense is still very strong with those two, DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne holding down the fort.
Whatever they get from Ratliff going forward can only be considered a bonus.
Veteran Nick Hayden is there. He isn't flashy or dominant, but the former Carolina Panther has been solid throughout training camp and the preseason, and is a respectable starter within a front seven that remains above average regardless.
Hayden has been reliable and consistent throughout the month of August, and in a case like this, those traits are extremely important.
Relief from Ratliff would be nice, but this is a defense that was sunk last year by the inconsistency that came as a result of too many injuries.
It's time to forget about Ratliff and let the healthy guys get the job done. The Cowboys don't need Ratliff to succeed, and it's important that they approach 2013 with that mentality.