Cowboys NT Jay Ratliff was named to the Pro Bowl in 2008 and '09 and was a PFW/PFWA All-NFC selection in '09. He has been a great rags-to-riches story since being drafted in the seventh round in '05, becoming an anchor of what was one of the NFL's better defenses down the stretch last season and a key cog in the Cowboys' unit for the foreseeable future.
Yet, Ratliff is hesitant to say that he has accomplished anything close to what he wants yet. He feels he still has work to do to join the NFL's elite players.
"I can't say (last season was my best)," Ratliff told PFW by phone this week. "To be honest, I don't think you've seen my best yet."
When asked what he needs to do to reach that level, Ratliff said he doesn't want to get into specifics that might give opponents an edge this season.
"Those are personal things," Ratliff said. "I don't put that out there."
Ratliff, though, believes he can perform better this offseason following surgery on his elbows. He has played in pain the past few seasons with bone chips and spurs, and he thinks cleaning them up gives him a chance to do more without restriction.
"Last year I got really irritated with (the elbow pain). It was something I could play with, but I just wanted to get it taken care of," he said.
Ratliff says he has gone through the rehabilitation process and proclaims himself pain-free, ready to go for training camp. The only restrictions he has had have been limiting his work on the bench press because of the pain following the surgery. "I couldn't get the workout I wanted because of the range of motion and things like that, but that's what I am (catching up on) now. I don't feel any pain and I am just trying to get my strength up."
The Cowboys' dominant run last season ended in shocking fashion when they lost a divisional playoff game 34-3 to the Vikings in Minnesota. There will be a chance for some redemption in Week Six when the Cowboys travel back to Minnesota for a rematch, but Ratliff said he is not focusing at all on any kind of payback.
"It's in the past now. We can move on and try to get better," Ratliff said. "I think we're a mature team and realize what we did wrong and what we can do to improve. We also recognize the things we did well, so we just go in and build off of that. We really need to be more consistent to get there. If we are more consistent, then we'll be right where we need to be, and we'll be able to take that next step."
Ratliff watched several quality nose tackles around the league have the franchise tag placed on them and saw the Patriots and Steelers sign Vince Wilfork and Casey Hampton, respectively, to lucrative deals. Ratliff signed a five-year contract extension in December 2007 and has three seasons remaining on the deal, but he adds that he is not unhappy with that decision. Despite some recent speculation from other media outlets, he says he is not unhappy with his current contract situation.
"I did what I thought was best for me at the time, and I don't regret it," he said. "That's what it is. I am happy now where I am at. Everything will work out just fine. I am not worried (about my contract) going forward.
"My goal is to stay focused, not get distracted by all that (contract talk) and try to be a better player."
For authoritative coverage and analysis of NFL news, free agency and fantasy football, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.