The past year and a half has been wild for Randy Gregory. Once seen as a top-ten talent in the 2015 NFL Draft, Gregory's draft value plummeted after failed drug tests and reported personality concerns. At Nebraska, Gregory was the best player on the team, despite playing his position about 20 pounds underweight. With a glaring need at defensive end across from DeMarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys selected Gregory thinking the two would create a fountain of youth and talent at the position. The team believed that Lawrence and Gregory were the answers to long-term questions at defensive end.
Fast forward to the 2016 season and it's yet to be certain who will start at defensive end. The four-game suspensions to both Gregory and Lawrence are obviously huge. Four games is one-fourth of the playing season and it's better to get off to a good start than not. To make matters even worse, the Cowboys' first two games are against the New York Giants at home and the Washington Redskins on the road. What really matters is to win your division and the Cowboys will play one-third of their divisional games in the first two weeks of the season without their bookend starting defensive ends.
Gregory is a player I've done a lot of research on in the past. He's the type of player that has the skill-set to develop into a perennial starting defensive end in the NFL. He has the explosion, the athleticism, the analytics numbers, and the scheme fit to be special in Dallas. However, some personality and anxiety problems keep weighing his progression and development down. Since coming to Dallas, the workout regiment has given Gregory a balanced schedule where he can focus on football and reach his true potential. Coaches like Rod Marinelli and Leon Lett are two spectacular defensive coaches that have proven to make the most out of players who really aren't anything special.
Depending on how you look at things, Gregory's rookie season wasn't exactly a success but it wasn't a disappointment at the same time. If you box-score scout, you will notice that Gregory finished the season with zero sacks. However, there were a few games where he had at least five quarterback hurries. Another thing to remember is that Gregory was enjoying a productive preseason before the foot injury tampered his development.
Despite all of the criticism the Cowboys have faced with players that have struggled in the past with off-the-field concerns, Jerry Jones seems adamant about Gregory's long-term stay in Dallas.
Anybody who has had any type of substance treatment knows that Rome was not built in a day," Jones said. "That's not being too tolerant. That's being patient. He just happens to have a job that has zero tolerance at some point for any ingestion of substance.
And while the drug-related concerns are a problem, Gregory has managed to get his body into NFL shape. He came into Dallas weighing just over 230 pounds. He's now about 255 pounds and as he adjusts his athleticism with his playing style, Gregory should be a consistent contributor at the defensive end position in the Cowboys' 4-3 defensive base set.
Dallas had the opportunity to select a defensive end at some point in the early rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft. But because the Cowboys bypassed on the position until the fourth round of the draft, it leaves me to believe that the Cowboys are not only comfortable with the long-term future of Gregory, but they're also comfortable with the players that will be playing when Gregory and Lawrence are suspended.
Gregory is still 23 years old and while the suspension leads to frustration as well as stunting his progression, Gregory is still seen as the team's highest-upside pass-rusher and he's only going to be costing the Cowboys just over $2 million in the next three years. A suspension for anything is never something that is acceptable, but the fact of the matter is that Gregory is only going to get better and the Cowboys are going to be the team that sees the long-term rewards, as long as he can conquer his off-field issues.
The four-game suspension will damper Gregory's production, but he'll be able to come into his own more in his second year after a full training camp, barring any injury, rather than his first season where he barely participated on the field because of the foot injury. Despite the four-game suspension, Gregory's talent will still make him the team's best pass-rushing option in terms of statistics and on-field activity.