Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory will be suspended for the first four games of the 2016 NFL season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. The announcement comes as Dallas is making the final preparations for next week's Scouting Combine and the upcoming free agency period (starting March 9th). Gregory, drafted in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, finished his rookie campaign without notching a sack, after a Week One high-ankle sprain derailed his progression.
Gregory will be allowed to be involved in all offseason activities, but will have to shut it down starting the first practice after rosters are finalized. He will be eligible to return in Week 5 of the season.
Gregory was available for the Cowboys with the 60th pick after he failed a drug test at the 2015 Combine. Prior to that point, the 6-5, 240-pound propsect from the University of Nebraska was considered one of the best pass-rush talents in the draft and a surefire first rounder. After the draft, it was disclosed that Gregory was in fact bipolar, and the marijuana use was part of his self-medication for the disorder.
The NFL Substance Abuse policy is set up in stages. A player is placed in Stage One for up to 90 days after their first violation, leaving them subject to a fine and additional testing. If they come out clean, a player is "discharged" from the program. If they fail a test in Stage One, they are fined and moved to Stage Two.
A Stage Two violation results in additonal fines and a four-game suspension. This would indicate that including the Scouting Combine test, this is, at least, Gregory's third failed drug test in under a year. With this violation, Gregory may not be able to be discharged from the program after 24 months of testing clean.
Another infraction will result in a suspension of four-to-six games and moving to Stage Three, where a player can face a 10-game ban for marijuana, or a one-year ban for other banned substances.
The suspension and subsequent escalating penalties might have a major affect on how Dallas proceeds in the draft and free agency. Third-year pro Demarcus Lawrence is set to be the team's premiere edge rusher after exploding down the stretch of 2015 with eight sacks in the last half of the year. Greg Hardy was second on the team in sacks in 2015, but has his own off the field issues and is currently a free agent. 2014's sack leader Jeremy Mincey was blanked in 2015 and is a free agent as well. Jack Crawford is another free agent who spent time both at DE and DT for the club.
Olivier Vernon, who schooled the Cowboys' Tyron Smith for multiple sacks in a Dallas-Miami game last season, leads a lackluster group of edge rushing free agents. That group will likely see Mario Williams join the list once the Bills release the player. In the draft, Ohio State's Joey Bosa and Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence are both projected to go in the Top 15 of the draft.