On Thursday, the NFL made a ruling that was unnecessarily weeks in the making: Six days after Randy Gregory recorded his first NFL sack, he's been sacked himself. Again. He's recorded his third NFL drug suspension, the result of a failed appeal of a sixth or failed drug test during his brief association with the NFL.
Gregory now has himself a one-year suspension for this third violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. That part is his fault, "fault'' that is evident as I have covered Gregory and the Cowboys and "Second-Chance Valley Ranch'' at length. Now, for at least a year, Gregory’s NFL career is kaput. But there is more to this story that is deserving of examination. I do so below:
To be sure, this is largely Randy Gregory's fault.
The ideal way to not be found in violation of the NFL's drug rules is to not be found with drugs in one's system. And so, Gregory deserves whatever punishment the league has in place for these situations. Except ... what punishment schedule does the league have in place for these situations? And how and when is justice rendered?
"He'll have his appeal hearing, as I understand it, in the next week to 10 days," relayed Dallas Cowboys COO Stephen Jones on Sunday after the pre-playoff-tune-up loss in Philly.
But wait. "As I understand it"? How can the people running the NFL not have specifics on how all of this is supposed to work? Times? Dates? Rules? Regulations? Framework? Specifics? How can there be so much unknown?
Because not only is the NFL tyrannical, as is its right ... It is also nonsensical. And by creating a Kangaroo Court look for itself, its teams and its players, that isn't right at all.
"I can't do anything now to help my cause; everyone else that's dealing with the situation, I'll let it play out on its own,'' Gregory told me after performing at a high level against the Eagles and recording his first career sack. "I'll handle the things I can control, which is going out there and making plays."
That's the correct approach (ignoring for the moment that Gregory did have some "control" when it came to his half-dozen or so failed/missed drug tests, all coming despite him being in just his second NFL season.) What's not correct:
*The NFL not mirroring the legal concept of "the right to a speedy trial.''
*The lack of transparency in matters like this that can cause Dallas or any other franchise to think it's being persecuted.
*And most immediately, the Cowboys now being in the dark about who and how to prepare for a playoff run. Think about it: Dallas knows more about who it'll open against at 3:40 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 15 at AT&T Stadium against either Detroit (if it wins at Seattle this weekend) or against the winner of Giants-Packers (assuming Detroit loses) than it knows about the availability of its own employee.
A couple of times in the last month, the Cowboys were informed - by someone from the NFL - that Gregory could return to practice, only to then learn that the league had either erred or changed its mind. The Nebraska second-rounder (available that low because he entered the draft with these same marijuana issues) is playing now, and well. At 6-6 and 250, he's 15 pounds bigger and stronger than he was a year ago.
He's got bend and he's got speed.
"I think I can play even faster," Gregory told me on Sunday, and I will say this: In this conversation, brief as it was, Gregory was stripped of the too-cool-for-school aloofness of his rookie season. Cowboys Nation can wonder if maybe the fact that his influence a year ago was the enigmatically troubled Greg Hardy, while his workout partner all this season has been the inspirationally spiritual Jaylon Smith. (If this all works? Some credit is due the "Second-Chance Valley Ranch'' policy, the Joneses' Island of Misfit Toys belief that I write about critically here.)
The scouting report from owner Jerry Jones: "He has relentless motor, and plus he has some unique things about rushing the passer. It's called 'talent.' He'll go until he can't go any more. He has everything. And he's highly intelligent.''
Meanwhile, Dallas -- despite spending the last month putting up NFL-best stats in the pass-rush department -- is highly suspect because of how thin and wounded the Cowboys are along the defensive line? Demarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Cedric Thornton and Terrell McClain are so banged up they didn't even make the trip to Philly.
Gregory spoke of Super Bowl optimism for the group, and of his own ability to help.
"I'm excited for the playoffs,'' he said. "I'm excited to be on this team during this run."
Gregory's availability, fresh legs and maybe corrected approach to football (and life?) would be coming along at the exact right time, if ...
Sources suggest to us that the basis of Gregory’s appeal regards the circumstances of his latest missed test. By rule, a "miss" counts as a "fail" once a player is in the program - and Gregory is deep in the program, having missed the bulk of 2016 due to a four-game suspension and then a 10-game suspension stacked atop that.
Here's a theory: What if Gregory missed a test not because of irresponsibility or due to trying to duck it, but rather, because he was confined to rehab? In theory, would that be an acceptable reason that allows him to win an appeal?
It's not known, because there is no transparency and there is no clarity and the rules inside this kangaroo court seem unfairly foggy.
Why not conduct Gregory's hearing before allowing him to debut in Week 16 against the Lions? Why not conduct his hearing by arranging the East Coast meeting after Sunday's game on the East Coast? Why might it be "seven days" or "10 days" when it could simply be "right now"?
We do know this: When the NFL gets around to taking care of the business of one of the 12 playoff teams that deserve to have their concerns prioritized, if Gregory loses the appeal hearing, a suspension (likely a year-long one) would be immediately enacted. And his season will be over.
"The appeal," Stephen Jones said, "is to appeal his suspension. So if he doesn't win it, he's suspended."
Jerry harbors some optimism here, maybe only because that's his standard operating procedure. "We just got to work and figure out a way to keep him on the field because he's a favorite among the players,'' the owner said. "His teammates, they think the world of him." (One can imagine Gregory making an effort to fit in when you read "The Players Creed,'' here.)
But can you "work and figure out a way''? How do you work? What do you figure? In the NFL's Kangaroo Court, how does anyone know?
UPDATE: Well, here's one way. According to our NFL Network friend Ian Rapoport, the appeal was scheduled for Tuesday. But in a last-second switch, Gregory has fired his legal representation. Rapoport writes that Gregory "was not able to secure representation by the hearing,'' a move that "may lead to postponement.''
I'm just theorizing again here when I suggest that if I'm in Gregory's situation, on trial in a court with no rules, and I learn that a lack of representation might lead to a postponement of my trial, I'm going to attempt to continue to fail to find the right representation ... until, oh, say, the day after the Super Bowl.
One league source, pressed on this crime-and-punishment problem -- as it relates to everything from Tom Brady deflating balls to touchdown scorers being penalized or now for making snow angels to Gregory and the Cowboys hanging in limbo, finally made concession to me over the weekend.
"I can see," the source said, "how it looks like the NFL makes some of these rules up as we go along."