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Examining the Randy Gregory saga and how he could impact the Cowboys defense if reinstated

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The up and down career of Randy Gregory figures to take another turn very soon.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

When Randy Gregory entered the NFL Draft in 2015, expectations were sky high for the defensive end out of Nebraska. In his two years of college ball, Gregory recorded 119 total tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss, and an outstanding 16.5 sacks. This impressive play led SI.com to give him some high praise in their draft profile, citing he could be the NFL’s next great edge rusher.

But as far as on the field, his talent, promise of production, effort and apparent love of playing, Gregory is a top-10 player. Gregory is far from a finished product, but that’s part of what makes him so enticing. Yes, there is definite “boom or bust” to him. But if he lands with a 3-4 team that can keep him focused away from the facility, he could be the NFL’s next great edge rusher.

When Gregory failed a drug test at the combine, red flags started to pop up. Team’s questioned his dedication to football, and if he was worth a premium pick. These concerns caused Gregory to fall from a likely first-round pick, all the way down to number 60 in the second round. Right into the lap of Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys. Jones was looking for the next DeMarcus Ware, and thought he may have found it in Gregory.

The highly-touted edge rusher got off to a tough start to his Cowboys career. In his first game in the NFL, Gregory suffered a high-ankle sprain that kept him out until Week Seven. The rest of his rookie year, he recorded just seven total tackles, and was unable to record a single sack.

After a bumpy rookie year on the field, things got tough off the field. Gregory was suspended for the first 14 games of the 2016 season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. When he returned to the field at the end of the season, he produced, recording nine total tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack in just two games.

Things were finally looking up for the former Nebraska star, but once again they took a downward turn. In January, Gregory was once again suspended, this time for the entire 2017-2018 season. This suspension also made him ineligible to play in the Cowboys upcoming postseason game against the Green Bay Packers.

There were questions if Gregory would ever play for the Cowboys again, but as we have seen be a pattern in his story, things went back up again. In the summer of 2018, Gregory was reinstated to play, and he made this one count. The edge rusher upped his game in a big way, producing a very solid season.

In just 14 games, Gregory recorded 25 total tackles, 15 QB hits, seven tackles for loss, and six sacks. Pro Football Focus graded out Gregory as an above average pass rusher as well, earning a total pass rush grade of almost 70, and an overall defensive grade above 65 in seven games.

Things were looking about as positive as they had for Gregory in his short NFL career, but once again, they his a crossroad. This time, Gregory was suspended indefinitely in February of 2019 for violating the NFL’s policy on substances of abuse as well as the terms for his previous reinstatement.

Flash forward a little over a year to today, and Gregory still has not been reinstated by the NFL. However, there appears to be hope that this could change very soon. The edge rusher seems to be working his way through the process of being reinstated. If allowed back on the field for the first time since January of 2019, what type of impact could he have for the Dallas’ defense?

It’s clear the Cowboys will need someone to step up opposite of DeMarcus Lawrence if they want to replace the production that Robert Quinn added last season. If you take away the 11.5 sacks that Quinn recorded, Dallas would have just 28 sacks on the season, tied for second worst in the NFL. The Cowboys third-highest sack man was cornerback Jourdan Lewis with four.

With Aldon Smith being reinstated, Dallas has another option to help replace the production of Quinn, but it also comes with some challenges. He hasn’t touched the field since 2015, which is an eternity in NFL time. Gregory has been out for over a year, a far less period of time, and the last time we saw him on the field he was extremely productive.

With the additions of a healthy Tyrone Crawford, plus Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe to the interior of the defensive line, Dallas has a chance to be much better against the run. The big thing they still are lacking is a consistent pass rush. Gregory has a chance to change all that if he able to stay on the field.

The Cowboys don’t need him to be a star, but if he is able to produce the way he did in 2018, he can be a huge addition. Having him on the field in rush situations, will cause teams to be more weary of double-teaming DeMarcus Lawrence. Say the Cowboys have a rush defensive line of Gregory, Crawford, McCoy and Lawrence on the field. That is a heck of a group that can force some serious pressure on the quarterback.

The status of Gregory is clearly a big question mark, but he seemed to turn a corner on the field with his play in 2018. His roller-coaster of an NFL career figures to take another turn very soon. If it goes in the right direction, the Cowboys could get the pass rusher they desperately need to help their defense have a rebound season in 2020.