FRISCO, Texas — As strange as it might seem, all of this is true: Randy Gregory is 28 years old. He is the second longest tenured Dallas Cowboys defender. He has played only 38 games since the Cowboys drafted him as a second-round pick in 2015.
A series of suspensions for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy forced Gregory to miss 54 games (including all of the 2017 and 2019 seasons). He missed four more because of an ankle injury in his rookie season.
And, for the first time since 2015, Gregory is taking part in the Cowboys’ offseason program.
“I want to get away from that past,” Gregory said Tuesday after the first day of the Cowboys’ mandatory minicamp. “I feel like there’s a certain narrative you guys have to follow or choose to follow as far as my journey. That’s what people want to read about and hear about. I understand. It’s in the past. I’ve done a great job the last few years with the team on and off the field, and I’m looking forward to the future, if that’s three years, five years, whatever it is.
“I’m having fun. I’m doing what I need to do. The coaches love me, the players love me — at least I think they do — and I’m not worried about all the other stuff. I’m doing a good job.”
As adept as Gregory is at rushing the passer and creating pressure, running from his past has been difficult. But as he spoke Tuesday, his past did not come up through the first 10 minutes of the interview session.
The questions asked included how his participation in the offseason program will help, his role on the defense last season and what might change for 2021, his frustration at his lack of playing time, his size and thoughts on Cowboys coordinator Dan Quinn.
“It’s kind of funny, I was talking to my dad the other day, and he’s a geek when it comes to football and Cowboys and me and especially when it comes to me,” Gregory said. “So he reads all this stuff, knows all this stuff talked about me and he’s like, ‘It’s funny I don’t see you being talked about as much in the media this year. I don’t know if it’s because you’re here and there’s not that storyline or what?’ Yeah, I think that’s a good thing. It’s a win, I would agree.”
A standout at Nebraska, Gregory arrived in Dallas with much promise. He was considered by many to be the top pass-rusher in the 2015 draft, but many teams were scared off because of off field concerns. The Cowboys got a first-round talent in the second round and hoped he would be their next DeMarcus Ware, even giving him the No. 94 jersey.
In his 38 games, Gregory has 10.5 sacks. Ware had more than 10.5 sacks in seven of his nine seasons with the Cowboys.
Still, the promise remains.
“When I look at Randy’s personal evaluation, I gave him two arrows pointing up,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said, recalling Gregory was reinstated to play beginning in Week 7 last season and the team wanted to be sure he was fully ready.
“You get at the end of the season and you look at his production and you’re like, ‘Well, coach why the hell didn’t he play more?'” said McCarthy. “Yeah, I get it. But if you go back to the path that he was on, not having a chance to work with him before that, he hasn’t been on the football field, so I think clearly his path last year was just, he just continued to rise with every opportunity that he had. So now going through a full offseason, I definitely think he can be a premier, primary player for us on defense.”
Gregory admitted he was frustrated at a lack of playing time last season. He had 3.5 sacks with 17 tackles, two tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and a pass deflection. His 16 quarterback pressures were third most on the defense.
“I’ve always been confident in myself,” Gregory said. “I’ve always felt like that I could compete at a high level. I think last year was more about getting me out there in the right spot and actually giving me opportunities to show what I can do on the field. Honestly, at times I felt like I didn’t get that chance. I think it was pretty obvious. But I have a lot of faith in the staff right now. I have a lot of faith in my play. It’s going to be fun to go out there and play in this defense.”
Quinn has a history with Gregory. The Cowboys coordinator, who was the Atlanta Falcons coach at the time, worked Gregory out at Nebraska prior to the 2015 draft.
“I thought, ‘Man, I so badly wanted to coach him,’ because I saw all the traits, all the speed,” Quinn said. “He’s got this unique ability to go full speed and he can bend on the edge and he’s got such flexibility to bend. When I had a chance to get here, he was one of the first people I wanted to get into contact with and we hit it off immediately. … He just looks so much different. He’s bigger, he’s faster and stronger than he’s ever been.”
When the 2020 season ended, Gregory was a fixture at The Star, working out with teammates. In previous years, he let his weight drop in the offseason and had trouble regaining the mass and strength. While listed at 6 feet 5 inches tall and 260 pounds, he looks thicker than he has in the past.
Gregory has said in the past he liked a lot of the disorder, which led to many of his issues. Now, he has learned “self-love,” and is proud of himself. Gregory told ESPN in December he had gone through extensive counseling and credited psychologist Dina Hijazi for her help in dealing with anxiety issues.
“I don’t like chaos. I like to keep to myself,” he said. “I realize that [in the] past I had a lot of chaotic people in around me and it created this mindset that if there wasn’t any chaos I would create my own chaos. I needed to feed off something. I needed something to get me out of that mental state that I was in. And now it’s not so much like that. My life is a lot more simple.”
It’s about football, his two children and his future.
Gregory is set to be an unrestricted free agent after this season. The Cowboys stood by him when other teams might have parted ways with a player. They signed him to a one-year extension upon his return last year that included a $200,000 signing bonus.
“I should have already had a new contract,” Gregory said. “I was still on my rookie contract last year. That is kind of crazy to think about. I understand it’s a contract year. It’s all about earning everything now. I will do it on the field. Barring injury, I think I will be all right. I love it here. I love the owners. I love staff. I love the players. When that time comes we will talk about it, but where I came from I am not thinking about a damn contract right before the season starts.
“I still got a lot to do.”