The Dallas Cowboys are indoors at the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, putting the finishing touches on their on-field preparation for Thursday's visit to the Minnesota Vikings, a game with massive NFL playoff implications. They do so with a defensive line that is fading in the league's rankings for team sacks, a defensive line that isn't quite getting sacks from Tank Lawrence, a defensive line that is playing tackles at end because of its shorthanded nature, a defensive line that is certainly part of Dallas' 10-1 record but ... in terms of pass-rush, is the anchor being dragged along by the boat.
Meanwhile, there is another practice occurring, outside, under the sunshine at The Star. Rookie Jaylon Smith is there, as always, the linebacker working and praying -- with equal passion -- that the nerves in his leg some day fire. Rookie Charles Tapper is there, as always, the defensive lineman wondering if and when the Pars defect in his back will ever allow him to safely put on pads.
And second-year pass-rusher Randy Gregory is there, on paper the best available cure to what ails the Dallas D. He wears a helmet, blue shorts and a gray hooded sweatshirt, sprinting in short bursts under the supervision of Dallas strength-and-conditioning boss Mike Woicik.
Gregory, though, doesn't have a problem with strength. He doesn't have a problem with conditioning.
He has a problem with marijuana and the resulting failed drug tests and while his life may not be at stake here -- he's got second-round bonus money in the bank and he can always get whatever help he needs to manage an alleged social disorder and on measure, the pot's not going to kill him -- his livelihood is at stake.
Gregory has in his short NFL time apparently failed six drug tests. As a result, his 2015 season (during which he accomplished virtually nothing on the field) has been followed by a 2016 season (during which he's accomplished even less). There was a four-game and there is a 10-game suspension and technically he's seemingly eligible to return to the team -- not just to work out separately in the gray hooded sweatshirt but fully, with the team, as a Real Cowboy -- after December 19.
Do not hold your breath here.
A couple of weeks ago, NFL Network reported that Gregory had "failed another test,'' and that the league's drug policy requires that a one-year suspension would be next on it's Gregory agenda.
The report is credible on every level; Cowboys officials have declined numerous invitations to dispute the report, a powerful factoid here, as the team would surely argue in his favor if he was innocent. The report actually has but one flaw, sources tell CowboysHQ.com: Gregory didn't actually "fail'' the test. Rather, he was AWOL from a scheduled appointment.
Dog ate his homework. Got a flat tire. Sick relative. Whatever.
But a missed drug test in the NFL counts the same as a failed'' one, and logic tells you why: A multi-million-dollar career and the hopes and dreams of teammates who would like to count on you hangs in the balance and ...
Dog ate his homework? Got a flat tire? Sick relative?
The Cowboys drafted the first-round talent of Gregory in the second round, and really shouldn't be mocked for "taking a risk.'' If you "take a risk,'' there is a downside -- otherwise it wouldn't be a "risk.'' Maybe owner Jerry Jones' Cowboys are due some self-evaluation of a "Second-Chance Valley Ranch'' program that obviously hasn't been the cure-all for Wayward 'Boys over the years.
Gregory -- possessive of a quality upbringing thanks in part to a father who is a corporate executive -- has always had a "too-cool-for-school'' approach to being a member of Cowboys Nation, opted of his own volition to play tag-along brother to the departed Greg Hardy, and so failed under the mentorship of Charles Haley that the controversial Hall-of-Famer, when asked about Gregory on 105.3 The Fan, said:
“You messed up once – OK. You mess up twice, you know you’ve got a problem. When you do it three and four times, how can you help him? He’s got to want it himself. ... There’s got to be some deep-rooted problem with the kid.”
Haley said his offers to aid Gregory have included everything from inviting him to live with the Haley family to on-field coaching.
“I come out there to help him and he tells people he wants to fight me – so I’m done,” Haley said. “I’ve been through what he’s been through, and I try to tell the kid that you don’t have to do this alone – call me, you can come live with me, but you are going to do ‘A, B and C,’ but he don’t want to do it ... So f' it.''
The Cowboys are not cutting Gregory loose, and needn't. His presence has zero impact on the rest of the team or on the salary cap. Jones also stands behind Gregory because it is the way Jerry is built. "America is the Land of Opportunity,'' and all that.
"He's our baby,'' Jerry said on 105.3 The Fan the other day, utilizing yet another of his homespun Little Rock expressions. "He may be an ugly baby, but he's our baby."
Really, though, once Gregory's eligibility to return from his 10-game suspension on Dec. 19 comes and goes, there may not be much logic to his daily workouts in the helmet, in the shorts, in the gray hooded sweatshirt. At that time, a return to rehab makes more sense, because at that time, Gregory's challenge will be less about football choices and more about adulthood choices.
Ultimately, Randy Gregory is not the Dallas Cowboys' "ugly baby.'' Like the rest of us, ultimately, Randy Gregory is his own "ugly baby.''