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BTB Mailbag: Are we sure Randy Gregory is a lock for a Cowboys roster spot?

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You got questions, we got answers.

2015 NFL Scouting Combine Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Randy Gregory’s reinstatement to the league is a great way to kick off training camp. After missing all but two games over the past two seasons, the Cowboys second-round pick of 2015 is set to return to action. For a lot of us, we’ve coped with his absence and essentially written him off as any type of player that is ever going to help this team win football games. But he’s back now, and it’s hard not to be sucked back in to believing he could be a real difference-maker in the pass rushing game. Is it okay to feel this way? Do we even know what to expect from Gregory? These are legit concerns and one of our readers, Matt, raises his own doubts in our latest BTB Mailbag question:

MATT: How sure are you of Randy Gregory’s roster spot?

Think about it for a second...For all intents and purposes, Randy Gregory hasn’t lit the world on fire from the defensive line position. Now half of that, or maybe more, is that Gregory cannot seem to get out of his own way in terms of even finding his way to the field.

Now I know he is still on his original rookie contract because his suspensions have kept from accruing any kind of seasons of service and maybe that’s the only thing that saves him. Because I’m looking at it from the perspective of tempering any kind excitement generated by his return. Say he comes back and the rust is to obvious, the time away from football too evident, perhaps too mush to overcome.

I don’t think it is a lock or that his roster spot is guaranteed.

Many of us just assume Gregory’s making the team. After all, his talent has never come into question. Most draft pundits had him listed as a top-10 pick coming out of college if it wasn’t for off-field concerns. And sure enough those off-field concerns came into play and Gregory started failing multiple drug tests. His actions caused him to be unavailable to the Cowboys and it gave rise to the idea that the front office had squandered a second-round pick.

But Gregory is back now and the team will attempt to gain as much as they can from their investment. They didn’t go through all this trouble only to turn around and release him before the season starts. With over 2,000 pages of testimonials, including the support of several of his teammates (read the letters here), Gregory’s importance to the team is evident. Whether he turns out to be the star they hoped for is still a great unknown, but you have to think they are going to give this kid every chance they can to be successful. And that is going to likely include keeping him around for the 2018 season.

His talent, his age, his cheap contract price over the next few years - are all appealing factors that work heavily in his favor for making the team. But there is still no guarantee that he’s on the team when the 2018 season begins, he’s going to have to earn his roster spot. What are some things that could keep him from making the team?

Another misstep

Gina expressed her disliking of Gregory’s return on twitter as she has no desire to be burned again.

Clearly, any additional drug violation would bury Gregory. He wouldn’t be playing for the Cowboys and it wouldn’t even be their decision. The NFL would step in and slam the gavel down on Gregory’s career.

Gregory has a history of drug use so we can’t just automatically assume he’s going to be clean for the rest of his life. It’s easy to buy into the idea that he’s changed and that he’s not likely to throw it all away by messing up again. That would be shocking news, but then again - many of us are surprised it’s gotten this far. He may be on the straight and narrow path now, but his mental health has been an issue before and you never know when that could come back into play. His mental health and drug use are intertwined.

A rusty Randy

Being out of action for so long certainly is going to affect the type of player he is right now. He’s not going to join the rotation and immediately start producing. It’s going to take a little bit to get his legs underneath him and play at a level where he can contribute on a consistent bases. How long is that going to take exactly....weeks, months, the entire 2018 season?

It’s tough to say what type of player he’ll be right away, but even if he shows some rust, it’s going to have to be significant for the Cowboys to conclude that he just doesn’t have it. With the depth this team has along the defensive line, the coaches have the luxury of easing him in to the defense. Gregory still has a lot to learn so even if his game isn’t where it’s supposed to be, the coaches know he’s going to improve. That’s going to buy him some additional time. They’ve been extremely patient thus far, what’s a little longer?

The rise of other edge rushers

It’s tough to put your finger on what the future looks like when it comes to the Cowboys defensive end position group. We are all hoping that DeMarcus Lawrence can stay healthy and continue to demonstrate that he’s one of the better pass rushers in the league. With more evidence helping his case, he’s likely to get a wealthy long-term deal to continue to play for the Cowboys.

Of course, that still leaves another starting spot open. It would be great if Gregory is that guy, but there are also a couple other young players trying to establish themselves as great pass rushers. Taco Charlton enters year number two and the team has high expectations after making him their first-round pick last season. What if he starts tearing it up in camp? They also have rookie Dorance Armstrong who is another high-upside guy. The thought is that it’s going to take time for Armstrong to develop, but there isn’t a rule that states he can’t come out of the gate strong. A powerful start could be a good indication of what’s to come. The Cowboys also signed free agent Kony Ealy, who is only a year older than Gregory. What if his experience puts him at a level the team can’t afford to part with?

Sure, there are a lot of “if’s” in those scenarios, but it’s been a roller coaster ride when it comes to Cowboys edge rushers and we still don’t know which players are going to provide us the greatest thrill. The good news is that the Cowboys don’t have to decide right now. Us fans can just sit back and watch and see which players show out. It’s hard to imagine that Gregory would perform poorly enough to make the coaching staff have doubts about his future, but if these other guys really impress, it’s going to make things a lot harder when it comes to constructing the defensive line unit. There aren’t enough reps for everyone so the team is going to have to get it sorted out and Gregory isn’t immune to being released.

With Gregory being out of the mix so long, it’s definitely a good idea to temper our expectations. Most of us are already acclimated to him not being around, so let’s just keep that mindset until he gives us a reason to think otherwise. Consider it a freeroll. If he starts to play well, then great - that’s a bonus. But gone are the days that this defense’s success desperately needs his help. Gregory has the raw talent to make this improving defense even better and the Cowboys organization are well aware of that. While nothing is certain, Gregory’s chances to make this team are very, very good.