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Jay Ratliff might get lost in the Cowboys’ fast money trail

The flip side of the flurry of free agent moves last weekend is the plight of Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff.

Late in 2007, the Cowboys looked into the future and rewarded Ratliff with a five-year, $20.5 million contract. He received an $8 million signing bonus and base salaries of $520,000 last year, $1.25 million in 2009, $2.105 million in 2010, $3.75 million in 2011 and $4.875 million in 2012.

It wasn’t a bad deal at the time for Ratliff, a former seventh round pick in 2005 who had just finished his first season as the starter. He had filled in admirably at nose tackle in place of the injured Jason Ferguson after being moved over from defensive end. He was set to be a restricted free agent and was one year away from being completely free. The Cowboys decided to reward him with a new deal.

A year later, Ratliff has outperformed his contract with 7.5 sacks, a Pro Bowl season in 2008 and is now severely underpaid. Just think of what he would have fetched on the open free agent market this season. Forget the Albert Haynesworth $100 million deal with Washington, consider the deal signed by former Cowboys teammate Chris Canty with the New York Giants. Canty got $42 million over six years, including $17.25 million in guaranteed money.

Basically, Canty got nearly as much in guaranteed money as Ratliff got over the lifetime of his contract. The travesty is that while Canty is a solid starter and good run stuffer, he is not nearly the player that Ratliff is. Ratliff is the one who made the Pro Bowl, the one who has proven to be versatile enough to play end and tackle. And he is the disruptive inside rusher who has 14.5 sacks over the past three years while Canty has recorded just 7.5.

The irony is that Canty was the one who was left smarting last year when the Cowboys began signing Ratliff and others to contract extensions and didn’t prioritize him as a cornerstone for the future.

In the end, the Cowboys did him a favor and got him paid.

In talking to Canty’s agent Brad Blank over the weekend, he said that one of the things that hampered the Cowboys in their negotiations to possibly keep Canty was the deal they signed with Ratliff. Canty was going to get more money and they would have had a hard time looking at Ratliff with a straight face.

Suffice it say, at some point they will have to do right by Ratliff or face the reality that he might eventually go Greg Ellis on them.

It’s no secret that Ellis’ unhappiness over the past few years was rooted in a below-value contract that he willingly signed in 2004. The Cowboys got Ellis on the cheap and while it sounded good at the time it became a point of contention when lesser performers around him started getting mega deals.

Ellis believes the Cowboys took advantage of him and his good-guy image. Thanks to his yearly complaints about his contract and his role, nobody thinks of Ellis as the squeaky clean choir boy anymore.

Now Ratliff is not a rock-the-boat type of player, and so far he has expressed nothing but good feelings and support for his good friend Canty.

But it does start to wear on you. You feel you have been taken advantage of. The Cowboys need to take care of Ratliff before he has no choice but to become the next Ellis. And for those of you who want to bellyache about how he should honor his contract, then you should consider the current plight of safety Roy Williams.

He has two years left on the $25.2 million contract extension he signed in 2006. Williams has underperformed and the Cowboys will release him if they can’t find somebody to take him and his contract off their hands in the next few days. That’s the reality of the game. If you don’t perform, you will be gone.

So players have every right to ask for a new deal when they have grossly outplayed their contract. Expect the Cowboys to hear from Ratliff and his agent at the end of the 2009 season.

That is if they haven’t already.