It's a roll of the dice, but at this point, it's one well worth tossing, considering the Bears' desperation, lack of experienced depth and lack of production along the defensive line.
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Jay Ratliff won't be able to help the Bears Monday night at Green Bay or a week from Sunday versus Detroit, two games that could very well shape the Bears' season, but the agreement for the remainder of the season with the 32-year-old free agent defensive tackle gives a former four-time Pro Bowler an opportunity to prove he can recapture a measure of the effectiveness he had through 2011. If he comes anywhere close to his old form, it will help the Bears, if it's not too late.
Ratliff has played just six games since 2011, when he earned a fourth consecutive Pro Bowl honor. It's been a year since he suffered the injury that led to major surgery in the groin/abdomen area. Ratliff pulled his hamstring while going through conditioning drills at the outset of Cowboys' training camp. That injury was accompanied by another huge setback in his surgery rehab. Since then, Ratliff and the Cowboys were in a never-ending dispute over his condition and rehab, until it ended in an ugly divorce a couple weeks ago.
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Ratliff visited the Bears last week, along with the Chiefs and Dolphins. Cincinnati gave a call after they lost Geno Atkins for the season Thursday night, but Ratliff was already well along in the process of choosing a new club. Ratliff's trip itinerary to Lake Forest included meeting with Phil Emery and coaches, and being evaluated by the Bears' medical staff to determine whether he could return this year.
Tight end Martellus Bennett played with Ratliff in Dallas, where he was also around special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis and running backs coach Skip Peete. Both DeCamillis and Peete were consulted in the decision to sign Ratliff. Ratliff's agent, Mark Slough, claims his client could be ready by mid-November, and within a month at the latest.
The Bears have likely done their due diligence researching whether Ratliff's DWI arrest earlier this year would be subject to disciplinary action from the NFL.
While the next two weeks could be critical to the Bears' season, the worst-case scenario would leave them with a 4-5 record and behind the proverbial "eight-ball" in a tie-breaker if swept by division rival Detroit. But they would also be just 4-5, and while faced with defensive challenges, teams have rallied from that record before. Ratliff would not come in and play at his old Pro Bowl level immediately. As a matter of fact, based on the severity and area of his injury, he would most likely be slowly worked into the playing rotation. But he is a player with something to prove and he has an impressive history at the "three-technique" tackle position.
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The Week 3 season-ending injury to Henry Melton required Corey Wootton to patch that hole in the roster. Any consistent, effective playing time by Ratliff would allow Wootton to move back to his more natural outside position, where the Bears have lacked an edge rush all season. And make no doubt, Ratliff would love to be back in pre-2012 form when Dallas comes to Soldier Field for a visit on Dec. 9.