It's rare that a four time Pro Bowler hits the open market in the middle of the NFL season, but that is what has happened with former Cowboy Jay Ratliff.

Ratliff, 32, was still rehabbing from a sports hernia surgery when he was released. However, his agent Mark Slough reportedly sent out a letter to teams yesterday telling them that Ratliff has received medical clearance to resume playing. The defensive tackle had made four straight Pro Bowls from 2008 to 2011 before injuries limited him to just six games last year.

via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
“Jay will now continue his individual workouts in Dallas and work hard to regain further strength and improve his conditioning. His goal is to be ready to [work out] for clubs in a couple of weeks. He currently weighs 304 [pounds] and is in very good shape … just needs to take his workouts up a notch.”
It's been reported that as many as six teams have inquired about Ratliff's services, with the Dolphins being one of them. It's unknown if the Patriots have expressed any interest in the former Cowboy.

On paper, bringing in Ratliff would make an awful lot of sense for the Pats, provided of course that he is healthy enough to be productive. The Patriots have a bit of a deficit at defensive tackle with Vince Wilfork out for the season and Tommy Kelly currently hobbled with a knee injury. Bringing in Ratliff would give the Patriots a strong (albeit old) eventual starting duo of Kelly and Ratliff, enabling Joe Vellano, Chris Jones and Marcus Forston to provide energy and pass rush from the bench.

Although Ratliff was listed as a nose tackle in Dallas, it should be noted that he plays the position much differently than Wilfork. At a listed 6'4" and 304 pounds, Ratliff is a bit undersized for the position, but has made up for it throughout his career with a combination of athleticism and technique. His style of play should actually compliment Kelly's disruptive power well.

Of course, four-time Pro Bowlers don't just become available without a catch. In this case, there seems to be bad blood in Dallas over his departure. Star linebacker and team leader Sean Lee had nothing positive to say this week when asked about the Ratliff situation on 105.3 The Fan Dallas:
“If you don’t want to be here and play for this team, then move on. I’d rather go down with guys who want to be here and want to win than win with guys who don’t want to be here.”

"When it comes to that situation, we've moved on. We have guys who are ready to play, who work extremely hard, and who care about each other as teammates. As teammates, all we care about is each other."
Ouch. The animosity seems to stem from Ratliff declaring himself healthy now that he's finally been cut loose from Dallas. It's easy to see how a teammate could see that as a betrayal. In fact, the situation has gotten so ugly that even Jerry Jones declined to comment on it, citing legal reasons.

via ProFootballTalk.com
“I had said earlier that I thought I was going to focus on good things, the contribution that he made here, how we all need him real bad, this team needs him read bad, needed him real bad. I was disappointed that he wasn’t playing.  It was disappointing that the resources that are involved here aren’t going to guys out here making plays.’’

“I won’t be commenting about this because of the fact there are legal issues involved here relative to the league and otherwise. I don’t want to get into the detail of the expanse of the legal issues that may be involved here.  But that’s the reason I’m not going to get into detail and talk about it.’’
As PFT's Mike Florio speculates, the "legal issues" surrounding Ratliff could mean an effort by the Cowboys to recover some of the money owed to him from his 2011 contract. Ratliff's release triggers a $6.98 million cap hit for 2014, a year when the Cowboys are projected to be as much as $31 million over the cap.

Despite the messy divorce from Dallas, I would argue that Ratliff is worth a look from the Patriots. For whatever reason, he clearly did not want to play in Dallas anymore, but he appears to be a guy who could be rejuvenated by a change of scenery and a clean bill of health. If there is as much interest around Ratliff as has been reported, money could become a factor, although it's unclear how much teams will be willing to spend on a 32 year old coming off of multiple injuries. Assuming he is healthy, it will likely come down to whether Ratliff would consider taking less money to play for a likely playoff team in New England.

Ned Brady 10/25/2013 12:44:00 PM Edit

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