While not prototypical size for the position at 302 pounds, Ratliff relies more on speed, quickness and leverage to beat bigger offensive linemen. He was so good in 2008 – credited with 83 tackles and 7.5 sacks by the coaches – that he was voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
Ratliff's value to the Cowboys is even higher because of who is behind him on the depth chart.
The Cowboys knew they would not retain last year's backup, Tank Johnson. They addressed the depth issue by signing Junior Siavii, one of their final cuts in 2008, and Tim Anderson, who was also out of football last year and missed all of the organized team activities and mini-camp because of toe surgery.
The club didn't make a high-profile foray into free agency. It didn't use a draft pick on a potential nose tackle either.
Yet on the list of concerns as the Cowboys enter training camp next week in San Antonio, backup nose tackle is not very high.
The Cowboys never really wanted to let Siavii go in the first place. And they contemplated bringing him back last season. On Jan. 12, the Cowboys signed Siavii (pronounced SEE-ah-vee).
"I know he has the talent to play in this league," defensive line coach Todd Grantham said.
Siavii just hasn't played much.
Siavii's journey to the Cowboys began in America Samoa before coming to the United States in 1997. A year later, he was noticed playing in a Salt Lake City men's league, and that led him to two junior colleges and a two-year stint at Oregon, where he played 25 games.
At 6-5, 320 pounds, Kansas City was seduced by his size and strength and picked him in the second round of the 2004 draft, one selection after San Diego took his college and now current teammate Igor Olshansky.
In 26 games with the Chiefs, Siavii made 27 tackles. He has not made a tackle in a regular-season game since Jan. 1, 2006 against Cincinnati. He hasn't seen the field since.
"I miss being out there," said Siavii, who had three tackles in the 2008 preseason. "I just want to play football. That's all I want to do."
After Siavii, who turns 31 in November, was cut by the Cowboys, he said he had nine tryouts but none of the visits ended with a contract. He said he had other options before rejoining the Cowboys.
"I already knew the team, the camaraderie, the coaches," Siavii said. "If I went to a new team, I'd have to try and learn everybody, who's who, what kind of coach, what I've got to prove. Over here, it's the same as last year. I came back for a reason, because I feel comfortable here."