Coming into the offseason, the Dallas Cowboys had needs at corner, safety, and slot receiver. Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson were both steals in the second and fourth rounds of the draft and are welcomed additions due to the departure of Byron Jones. Veteran Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was signed in March to pair with free safety starter Xavier Woods. The absolute steal of the entire draft was Wide Receiver CeeDee Lamb who fell from the heaven’s to the Cowboys at 17 in the first round.
However, there’s another need on the roster at the right defensive end spot. The fact that the Cowboys didn’t address it that much in the draft shows that they are confident that Randy Gregory and Aldon Smith will perform at a high enough level to complement DeMarcus Lawrence coming off the left edge.
Gregory has had a long and bumpy road since being drafted in the second round in 2015. He showed some promise during the preseason but would suffer a high ankle sprain in the season opener vs the New York Giants. After missing four games, he would return in Week 7 but wouldn’t record his first professional tackle until Week 10 vs the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He would end the season without a sack but did manage 16 quarterback pressures.
In February of 2016, Gregory was suspended for the first four games of the season due to violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. A few months later, he failed another drug test and checked himself into an undisclosed treatment facility and was removed from the team’s roster. With another 10-game suspension added, Gregory wouldn’t be eligible to return until December. After failing yet another drug test Gregory faced an additional yearlong suspension on top of the 14 games he was already going to miss.
He would play in two games and record his first career sack vs the Philadelphia Eagles. Gregory had high hopes he could play in the postseason, but on January 5, 2017, he was suspended for the playoffs and at least one season after missing a scheduled drug test. On July 17, 2018, Gregory was conditionally reinstated which allowed him to report to training camp and meetings. He met with the league in August after it was reported he suffered a substance abuse relapse but no disciplinary action was taken.
Gregory showed just how much potential he had during the 2018 season. In 14 games, he recorded 25 tackles and six sacks (second on the team) and two forced fumbles in a backup role. The Cowboys went 6-0 in games in which Gregory recorded a sack. In February of 2019, Gregory was suspended indefinitely for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. In April of 2019, the Cowboys extended Gregory through the 2020 season. In March of this year, it was reported Gregory was applying for reinstatement.
Now, Gregory is focused on taking advantage of yet another opportunity in the NFL. In an exclusive conversation with Patrik Walker of CBS Sports, he expressed his return wouldn’t be short-lived.
“I will be back this year,” Gregory said. “Difference is, I’ll be back for good this time.”
Smith, took the NFL by storm as the seventh overall pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. He broke Hall of Famer Charles Haley’s rookie sack record as he totaled an impressive 14. Smith would be named Defensive Rookie of the Year by Pro Football Writers of America and finish second to Von Miller for the Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
In 2012, Smith became the fastest player to 30 sacks doing so in 27 games, breaking Hall of Famer Reggie White’s record who did it in 28 games. He finished with an unreal 19.5 sacks which gave him 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons.
Smith came out with guns blazing in 2013 with 4.5 sacks in his first three games. However, on September 20, he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and possession of marijuana after a single-vehicle accident. He would voluntarily enter a rehab facility and put on the non-football injury list. After missing five games, Smith still finished with a solid 34 tackles and 8.5 sacks for the season.
Unfortunately for Smith in 2014, he would serve a nine-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse and personal conduct policy. In August of 2015, Smith was released by the 49ers after his third DUI arrest.
In September of 2015, Smith signed a one-year deal with the then Oakland Raiders. In November, the NFL issued a one-year suspension to Smith due to a hit-and-run three months earlier.
Smith would re-sign with the Raiders in April of 2016 and applied for reinstatement in October. However, there was no reinstatement and Smith missed the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The Raiders released Smith in March of 2018 after a domestic violence incident.
In March of this year, it was reported Smith was applying for reinstatement. In a shocking move, he signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys in April. A week after signing with America’s Team, Smith spoke with Jay Glazer of FOX Sports about his long road to getting his life back in order.
“It’s been a whole lot of soul searching. It’s been a journey filled with ups and downs,” Smith said. “And during the process, during the journey, there’s been some self-inflicting wounds. But in the process, I came out with a better understanding of who I am and what I want for my life. It gave me a greater appreciation for the game I’m blessed to play.”
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) April 10, 2020
2018 was a particularly hard year for Smith as he hit rock bottom.
“I didn’t have a lot of value for how I thought about myself,” Smith said. “I was sleeping under a car for some nights because my sickness took me there. And I had a home to sleep in. But I was in such a dark place that I didn’t see myself deserving anything other than that.”
Now Smith hopes to inspire others by his road to recovery.
“I believe that with the platform the NFL
gives players and particularly me with the things that I’ve gone through and things I’ve learned, it would give me a chance to help out others.”
Gregory hasn’t played since 2018 and Smith hasn’t played since 2015. However, if Smith can somehow be half the player he was years ago, and Gregory regains some of his promise he showed when he was last on the field, that combination could give the Cowboys a much-needed boost on the right edge. Factoring in Tyrone Crawford and rookie Bradlee Anae the Cowboys have a lot of bodies to play with to compliment Lawrence coming off the left edge.
With the NFL no longer suspending players for positive marijuana tests under the new CBA Gregory has a great chance of being reinstated, and I don’t see a situation where Smith isn’t as well.
It’s a lot to ask of Gregory and Smith with both having spent so much time away from the field. The hope is, however, that the right structure and guidance with the Cowboys can rejuvenate the careers of these two extremely talented pass rushers.