One of the few things more erratic in the NFL when it comes to Randy Gregory's approach to football is football's approach to Randy Gregory.
Two Dallas Cowboys sources informed CowboysHQ.com during the lunch hour on Tuesday that drug-suspended defensive end Randy Gregory "may return" to Cowboys practice as early as Wednesday, as one person carefully phrased it.
We believe the vague triple-meaning of the wording is purposeful:
1) Gregory, who has been out the entire season while serving consecutive suspensions for violations of the league’s substance abuse policy, "may" be involved in practice Wednesday because he has legal permission to do so.
2) Gregory "may" be in attendance in the sense that he also "may not" because, well, reliability has not been his strong suit during his two years in Dallas as a high-profile 2015 second-round pick.
3) Gregory "may" or "may not" be part of Cowboys practices for the long-term because the NFL's handling of his case is as unfortunate as Gregory's behavior itself.
(Shortly after our initial report, a third team source told us, "We do expect him at practice on Wednesday." So, let's go with that.)
UPDATE: And then at 5:49 comes word from the NFL Network and ESPN that the Cowboys have been informed that Gregory can NOT practice on Wednesday.
We are quite certain Gregory has been issued another suspension, and that it will be carrying a one-year ban. (That belief is the origin of our story here reflecting on the NFL Network report of a third suspension.) However, this seemingly positive development can simply be about his appealing of the suspension, which could in theory push everything onto the back burner. Depending on how far back it's perched on Commissioner Roger Goodell's stove-top, Gregory might remain eligible to finally play in Weeks 16 and 17 (and in the playoffs) ... and we could be looking at the eventual enforcement of this latest suspension coming not until the 2017 season.
The concept of the "stacked suspensions" is a complicated one, both in terms of bookkeeping and in terms of behavior. Gregory's first suspension lasted the first four games of the season. Then came this current suspension, which is for 10 games. Sometime during this process, Gregory failed/missed a sixth drug test.
That is enough to be concerned that another shoe ... no, make that another hammer ... could drop at any time.
How long might the appeals process last? What are the chances that Gregory practices on Wednesday but then hears of a negative ruling on Thursday? Has Gregory's time in rehab taught him important lessons in sobriety?
Maybe our greatest wish, as we have observed Gregory working independent of the rest of the team but alongside Jaylon Smith, is this: Last season, Gregory's inspirational leader was the troubled Greg Hardy. This season, his workout partner is Smith, one of the greatest and most inspirational natural leaders who have ever come through this team's doors.
When Gregory theoretically complains about hardships ... and then Smith's presents reminds Gregory that Jaylon would do anything to trade places with him ... well, maybe that is the greatest inspirational asset of its kind. In other words, maybe Jaylon can be one of the best things to happen to Jerry Jones' "Second-Chance Valley Ranch.'')
Then, ultimately, comes the football question: As much as this 11-1 Super Bowl contender could use pass-rush help ... can Randy Gregory play a lick of football?
The NFL has not proven to be very adept at solving these sort of problems. And in its lack of clarity, it looks as erratic in its behavior as Randy Gregory does in his.