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Dallas Cowboys’ risk with defensive end Randy Gregory finally paying dividends

The Dallas Cowboys are starting to reap the rewards of keeping Randy Gregory in the mix after waiting years for the 2015 second-rounder to make his mark.
Credit: AP
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) fumbles the ball as he's sacked by Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory (94) in the second half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 27. 2020. The Eagles recovered the fumble. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Jerry Jones wasn’t naïve when it came to Randy Gregory in 2015.

The former Nebraska Cornhusker had failed a drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine that February. However, his 6-foot 5-inch, 242-pound frame that featured cat-like reflexes and the bend of a limbo champion was too hard to pass up.

“I thought when we drafted him he was the best pass rusher in the draft,” Jones told “Shan & RJ” on 105.3 “The Fan” Dec. 29. “I thought he was, and that's why I took the risk on him that I took.”

Dallas selected Gregory with their second-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. The two-time all-Big Ten first-teamer spent more time suspended and away from the Cowboys than he did on the field during his first three seasons. 

Gregory played 14 games versus serving 30 games suspended for frequent violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

“We paid for that risk,” Jones said. “Randy will be the first to tell you.”

After a productive 2018 campaign where Gregory collected 25 combined tackles, seven tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hits, 6.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery in 14 games, it appeared his career was finally on track. 

However, another violation of the substance abuse policy the following offseason cast another shroud of doubt over his NFL career.

When Gregory got another chance in 2020, he took advantage of it and has provided the Cowboys with a missing presence on the edge.

“It's paying off for us,” said Jones. “I’m just excited. I have visions of a future for Randy here with the Cowboys that can meet the promise we really were looking at when we drafted him in the second round."

Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who Dallas took in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, has seen Gregory’s off-field growth manifest on-field as a player.

“I feel like he just grew into just being a man more, a man of his word and loving what he [does],” said Lawrence. “I feel like the sky is the limit for Randy. He’s faced some obstacles in his life. He’s still working on his day-to-day and that’s all a man can do, is wake up each and every morning and try to get better.”

Gregory’s career day came on Dec. 27 against the Philadelphia Eagles. 

Facing a dynamic quarterback in Jalen Hurts, the Cowboys, who had been easy marks for dual threat quarterbacks earlier in the season, needed a credible pass rush to threaten the athletic rookie. Gregory rose to the occasion with six tackles, 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hits, a pass breakup, and three forced fumbles.

“I just think the consistency in which it came up and as many big plays, ball-disruptive plays, as he made [Sunday], that’s the thing that gets people’s attention,” defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. “The really good players in this league touch the ball on defense. There’s not a really good player in the NFL that doesn’t touch the ball. He might be an adequate player, but good players touch the ball.”

The availability issues throughout Gregory’s career have hampered his endurance, or at least provided another facet to his game that needs cultivation. Through nine games, the Cowboys have been deliberate with his snap counts.

Said Nolan: “I’m going to say he’s probably been anywhere from 25 to 30 snaps a game up to this point. He might have had about 35 or so [against Philadelphia]. I can’t remember the exact number. He’s a very athletic person. He’s a good player. He’s got a good nose for the ball. He’s got a really good motor. He’s an aggressive player at the point of attack. He’s got a lot to offer.”

The Cowboys will take on another quarterback with escapability and scrambling prowess in Week 17 when they stare down the New York Giants’ Daniel Jones. 

If Gregory can impact Jones on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium, it should help Dallas finish 7-9 and have a chance to win the NFC East, given the Eagles can beat Washington on Sunday Night Football.

Do you think Randy Gregory will come through with a big game in Week 17 against New York? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.