IRVING, Texas -- Randy Gregory's proclivity for smoking cigarettes filled with marijuana instead of tobacco has jeopardized his career less than a year after the Dallas Cowboys selected him with the 60th pick in the NFL draft.
He has failed at least four drug tests in the past 12 months, which is why he has been suspended for the first four games of 2016. One more failed drug test, and Gregory will face a one-year suspension.
As soon as that news hit Friday afternoon, the natural reaction for critics of the Cowboys is to say the team should’ve never taken Gregory given his well-known history of smoking marijuana at Nebraska.
After all, he’d flunked a drug test at the scouting combine last February, an indication he was probably more than a recreational user of the drug.
There’s zero wrong with taking a talented player such as Gregory, a consensus top-10 talent, in the second round as long as the club understands the depth of his issue and the risk it’s taking.
Jerry Jones, vice president Stephen Jones, coach Jason Garrett and scouting director Will McClay -- the Cowboys’ primary decision-makers -- certainly understood every aspect of the risk involved in selecting Gregory.
They were seduced by the 6-foot-6, 240-pound sinewy defensive end with the quick first step and heavy hands. This is a franchise whose defense has been defined by its pass-rushers -- first Charles Haley, then DeMarcus Ware -- since Jerry Jones bought the team. The Cowboys gave Gregory No. 94, the number both Haley and Ware wore, because they viewed him as a player with special talent.
It just hasn’t worked out, thus far, with Gregory. Maybe it never will.
Gregory’s situation, though, won’t prevent the Cowboys from taking a risk in the 2016 draft or in free agency. If Noah Spence, a top-10 talent who is one of the best pass-rushers in the draft, falls into the second round because of his well-documented issues with ecstasy, the Cowboys would certainly draft him, if they believed they could keep him on the field.
Jones has always been about buying low and selling high in every aspect of his life. He’s worth more than $1 billion because he embraces risk.
Firing Jimmy Johnson and hiring Barry Switzer was risky. Hiring Bill Parcells and using the coach’s name to help him get public financing for his $1.2 billion stadium was risky. Signing Deion Sanders, Terrell Owens, Adam "Pacman" Jones and Greg Hardy over the years were risky maneuvers. Some worked, others didn’t, which is the essence of risk.
As long as Jerry Jones owns the team and signs the checks, the Cowboys will never be adverse to risky moves. They’ll take players with behavior risks, substance-abuse risks and injury risks because Jones doesn’t scare easily -- and he believes the Cowboys are more equipped than other organizations to help individuals with those issues play their best football.
Dez Bryant, a top-five talent who was viewed as a risk, has been an All-Pro. So was T.O. Sean Lee has been to the Pro Bowl, though he has struggled to stay healthy, and Bruce Carter led the club with five interceptions before leaving via free agency after the 2014 season.
Lee (ACL) and Carter (ACL), who were both second-round picks, were coming off serious knee injuries, otherwise they likely would’ve been selected higher.
Former top-10 pick Rolando McClain was playing for his third team since 2012 when he joined the Cowboys in 2014 after taking a year off. He helped them win the NFC East and go 12-4 that season. McClain, suspended for the first four games of last season, wasn’t an impact player in 2015.
The Cowboys signed Hardy and accepted the harsh criticism based on an alleged domestic violence incident, but he didn’t provide the elite pass rush they expected.
Other risky players the Cowboys have acquired over the years haven’t worked out as well. Adam Jones didn’t work out in Dallas, though he has played well in Cincinnati the past six seasons.
Josh Brent had been a solid backup until an accident and subsequent charge of intoxication manslaughter essentially ended his career. Years ago, others such as Alonzo Spellman, Dimitrius Underwood, Leo Carson and Jerome Brooks didn’t work out for the Cowboys, but no member of the front office expects every risk to work.
Jerry Jones is one of those folks who sees the best possible outcome in every scenario. He’ll tell you that too many times he ignores the litany of possible negative outcomes to focus on the positive.
He likes players who have been knocked down by adversity and picked themselves up to fight again. It’s because those stories remind Jones of himself as a youngster.
His entire professional life has been about big risk accompanied by either big failure or big success. Whether Gregory eventually works out or not long-term has zero to do with the Cowboys' belief in taking calculated risks.