It's been six years since Randy Gregory joined the Dallas Cowboys as a 2015 2nd-round pick; six seasons of flashed potential and painful disappointments. But as we head into 2021, it appears the Cowboys' confidence in Gregory is at an all-time high. Just how big a role could Randy have in Dallas this season?
We won't go into great detail on Gregory's well-documented issues with mental health, marijuana use, and repeated violations of the NFL's previous drug policy. He's missed two entire seasons and large portions of others with his multiple suspensions and time spent working on his personal life.
Gregory returned to the Cowboys in late October of 2020 after a year away from football followed by a six-game suspension. He recorded 3.5 sacks and was arguably the team's most disruptive defensive lineman by the end of the season.
Now Randy's back as potentially one of the biggest bargains on the roster; just a $2.2 million salary cap hit for arguably the Cowboys' best pass rusher. And with changes to the drug policy regarding marijuana, the 28-year-old Gregory appears to have his best chance yet to make a sustainable, positive impact.
Expectations have always been high for Gregory in Dallas. He wears the #94 for a reason; the Cowboys gave it to Randy as a vote of confidence much like giving #88 to Dez Bryant and CeeDee Lamb at receiver.
But while Michael Irvin and Drew Pearson can be proud of how later generations honored their legacy, DeMarcus Ware and Charles Haley are still waiting for Randy Gregory to do his part. And if the Dallas Cowboys are going to field an effective defense in 2021, there's no patience left for Gregory to finally become a key figure on the defensive line.
After letting Aldon Smith walk away in free agency, Dallas is down to just Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, and a lot of unproven options at defensive end. Their one free agent acquisition, Tarell Basham from the Jets, will be converting from 3-4 outside lineback to DE and hasn't been that productive as a pass rusher in New York.
Conversely, we've seen what Gregory can do even when he's getting limited opportunities. In his best career season of 2018, Randy put up six sacks despite missing two games and only appearing on about 45% of the team's total defensive snaps.
Now Gregory is entering 2021 still in his physical prime and, unlike in 2018 or 2020, not after sitting out an entire year due to suspension or personal issues. He gets to finally build on positive momentum instead of having to once again hit the reset button.
There's always potential for Dallas to spend a high draft pick at defensive end. Depending on who's available at their 10th-overall pick, an especially if they trade down, the Cowboys could very well be interested in Michigan's Kwity Paye or Miami's Jaelan Phillips to help boost their DE talent. We've also seen another Hurricane, Gregory Rousseau, fall to Dallas' 2nd-round pick in some projections.
But with big needs at cornerback, offensive tackle, linebacker, and other spots on the roster, Dallas could easily leave next week's draft without a significant addition on the defensive line. At that point, if they're not already, the Cowboys would clearly be counting on Randy Gregory to be a bigger part of the defense than ever before.
Hopefully the stars have aligned for Gregory in 2021. He stands to get his best opportunity yet to stay on the field and carry over momentum from the previous season. If Dallas actually does draft another defensive end next week, even a 1st-round pick will have to put in strong work to outshine Randy in training camp.
We've been rooting for Randy Gregory for a long time now. Maybe this is the year he finally rewards the Cowboys' and their fans' patience.