Jay Ratliff contract might be Jones' worst

IRVING, Texas -- All due disrespect to Roy Williams (both of them), but the Jay Ratliff deal might rank as the worst contractual mistake of Jerry Jones' career as a general manager.

Essentially, the Cowboys got a grand total of zero snaps from Ratliff in exchange for $18 million in guaranteed money.

There was no reason for the Cowboys to rush into giving Ratliff a rich contract extension a couple of years ago. (And that isn't hindsight.) He still had two years left on a team-friendly deal. Sure, he could have argued that he deserved a new deal after four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, but that definitely didn't make it a smart business move for the Cowboys to heavily invest in a then-30-year-old who didn't have any leverage.

But Jones did right by Ratliff ... only to have it blow up in his face about as badly as possible.

The concern about Ratliff's body breaking down became a worst-case scenario. He had several physical ailments over the last two years, culminating with a sports hernia or groin muscle torn off the bone and torn tendons, depending on whether you believe the company line repeated dozens of times since last December or the version of the story shared by agent Mark Slough after Ratliff's release.

The signing bonus was paid in 2011, but that five-year, $40 million contract extension just kicked in this season. Ratliff will never see the majority of the money, but he basically got $18 million for nothing.

The pain the contract causes the Cowboys will be felt well after Ratliff's release Wednesday.

The Cowboys made a bad contract worse by restructuring Ratliff's deal this offseason -- after his sack totals declined for five straight seasons (bottoming out at zero), after he was limited to six games in 2012 due to injuries, after he tried to fight his boss in front of the team, and after he was arrested on a driving while intoxicated charge six weeks removed from his backup being charged for intoxication manslaughter following a drunken-driving accident that killed a teammate.

The restructured contract consisted of turning most of Ratliff's 2013 base salary into a bonus, the NFL equivalent of paying the minimum balance on a credit card. That bill is due in full next season, when Ratliff will count for $6.93 million of dead money against the Cowboys' salary cap.

Think the Cowboys could use that cash for a more worthy cause? It'd sure be handy in their search for a replacement for Ratliff or defensive end Anthony Spencer. Or in a contract that keeps defensive tackle Jason Hatcher in Dallas, although his negotiations are certainly complicated by the disastrous results of the last time the Cowboys paid an aging defensive tackle.

Unlike Ratliff in 2011, Hatcher will actually have some leverage. If the Cowboys don't sign Hatcher -- or use the franchise tag on him -- he'll play for another team next season.

Ratliff wasn't going anywhere for two years when Jones made an eight-figure deposit in his checking account. Perhaps they paid the $18 million in guaranteed money to make sure the notoriously volatile Ratliff remained happy.

In return, Ratliff sparred with the owner/general manager, warred with the team's medical staff, and left a huge cap hit and massive hole in the Dallas defense's depth chart.