FRISCO - I am strolling through the massive reception area at The Star in Frisco with Darren Woodson at my side, and we are discussing Dallas Cowboys at Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend and we are discussing Woody's involvement in the ... program and we are comparing his 90's Cowboys teams with today's bunch. And just a few moments after he says these marvelous words (you can hear my entire audio visit with Darren here) ...
"When I played, I didn't think about it. 20 years later? Yes. I belong in the Hall of Fame.’’
... I get a text.
"HEADS UP,'' it reads.
And moments later comes the breaking news from NFL Network: pass-rusher Randy Gregory has failed another drug test and now faces another suspension that will cover an entire year.
A 17-minute span inside the Dallas Cowboys and you see the highest highs and the lowest lows.
Woodson, who has accomplished so much and wishes to continue doing so, smiling, honorable, bold, frank, willing his days in the sun to last forever.
Gregory, who has accomplished so little ... in the dark.
Gregory was eligible to return from his existing drug-violation suspension for the last two weeks of this season, and while I never much counted on that -- I've written dozens of times that "Randy doesn't need to work on being a football player, he needs to focus on being a person'' -- it was the carrot at the end of the Cowboys' stick.
However, barring him winning an appeal, Gregory won’t play this season. And the repetitive nature of his violations puts his football future in doubt, as it should. For while the Jones family prides itself on risk-taking and reclamation projects, the program I've dubbed "Second-Chance Valley Ranch'' isn't as special as they think it is. This isn't a Campground for Wayward Boys. It's a billion-dollar company, with stockholders (fans) clinging to the hope of prosperity (winning), and the employees of this billion-dollar company need to want to be here.
Interestingly, sandwiched between these two revelations, coach Jason Garrett is discussing Tony Romo and injured players and speaking very generally, he notes that any player wants to have faith that he's healthy and that this 53-man group is notable because to a man, its members want to play even when they're not healthy. Romo is "champing at the bit,'' Garrett says. Dez Bryant, as we all know, almost lost his mind for two days fearing football was going to be stolen from him. Ronald Leary is telling me his concussion is fine, whether it is or not. Tyron Smith now has a hip to go with the back and the neck and the stinger and ... I'm pretty sure he'll play in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Gregory, 23 and considered a “steal’’ in the 2015 NFL Draft because he slipped to the second round due this this same drug-relation concern, hasn't demonstrated he deserves to be a member of this fraternity. He was serving a 10-game suspension on top of the four-game suspension he received back in February for another violation of the NFL substance-abuse policy.
A problem stacked on a problem stacked on a problem, for this latest slip means Gregory has failed five NFL drug tests starting with the first violation coming at the NFL Scouting Combine.
I’ve reported that Gregory has spent a great deal of time working at The Star in Frisco alongside fellow hopeful (and fellow second-rounder, from the 2016 Draft) Jaylon Smith, a high-character guy who is hoping his injury issues clear up in a way that allows his return to the field. My feeling was that Smith might've served as a positive influence on Gregory, currently in the second year of his four-year, $3.814 million contract … but seemingly unable to prioritize football over a drug usage that some say is related to an emotional disorder.
I think it's worth noting that Gregory comes from a "good'' background featuring a father who is strong and successful. I think it's worth wondering whether Gregory and the Cowboys and medical folks might advise him to find a disorder-controlling drug that's actually legal. (Oh, and another argument for another time: It's on the NFLPA to de-criminalize marijuana in the football world. Nobody is aided by the rules as they exist, and the NFLPA exposes its weakness by not fixing that.)
Look at that Gregory contract again and know that he's not costing you any money. He's not costing you a roster spot. He's not really "around the team'' much so he's not a threat to drag anybody down the emotional toilet. But do you concern yourself with the "Criminal Cowboys'' optics? Hey, if the football team exists to "save'' everyone, why did it choose Josh Brent (working in the scouting department) over Joseph Randle (working toward making license plates in prison?)
Are we all family here? Sure. Privately, Dez Bryant wishes Rolando McClain would magically show up at The Star, just in time, not 60 pounds overweight, not woozy from Drank, and grab an oar and start rowing. But it's a dream. A dream about "family'' and "rehab'' and "reformation'' and "love.'' The concepts spring from Jerry Jones' football-generous soul here. And indeed, it can be rewarding to oversee "The Island of Misfit Cowboys'' if somehow a bunch of Randry Gregorys grow up to be a bunch of Darren Woodsons.
But that's not necessarily how football, or life, works. You get the highest highs and you get the lowest lows. And they exist, respectively, in the light and in the dark, and on far ends of the spectrum. Sometimes they just do.