IRVING, Texas -- As reporters entered the Cowboys' locker room Friday afternoon, left tackle Tyron Smith was sitting in Jay Ratliff's locker talking to a teammate. Ratliff's locker was intact, as if he were still in the building.
A picture of Ratliff screaming after a sack hangs on the wall outside the lunch room.
While Ratliff's locker and picture are seen at Valley Ranch, his absence on the field is felt.
The Cowboys won't have him going into their first-place showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles and the league's leading rusher in LeSean McCoy. Instead, Nick Hayden, who has started all season, remains in place of Ratliff. There's a drop-off by using Hayden over Ratliff. It's not Hayden's fault, that's just the way things are. Ratliff is a talented player, though his body has started to breakdown the last two seasons.
The franchise could have avoided this drama with Ratliff if he were released following the 2012 regular season instead of on Wednesday. Ratliff remained because of the hope that he would get healthy.
Ratliff and the Cowboys had major communication issues during the offseason about how seriously he was hurt and why he did certain things during the offseason.
Why was Ratliff allowed to workout during the OTAs and minicamps? Why was he even running the annual conditioning test to start training camp?
We ask these questions based on comments made by Ratliff's agent, who said the defensive tackle had severe injuries to his pelvis. If Ratliff was hurt as bad as his agent says he was, he should have never worked out in any fashion.
But the team thought he would be ready for the season, based on medical information they obtained, and that's why they allowed him to take the test. Ratliff would say his competitive nature took over. He should've just rested his body.
If Ratliff had done so, maybe whole thing wouldn't have happened.
"Well, I always like to hear about free bubbly up in rainbows, too," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "It's all positive. So I'm saying I don't like to hear anything that has a connotation of disagreement. The real world is that you have that, you have differences of opinion, and you certainly have it under the trying time of an injury situation. I think the most down that I know in my small experience of play -- but certainly I've observed it from players -- the most down time you have is when you're hurt and not able to be out there with your teammates and playing and not looking to the future. By the definition of being a player, they're competitors. They want to play."
Ratliff is a talented player with a combative personality. There was a gentle side to the man, but nobody cares about that now, given how he was released and the comments that were made.