Friday morning, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said any answer to questions about Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory’s indefinite suspension was “evolving.”
By Friday afternoon, that answer had evolved quickly.
Five hundred and fifty-six days after the NFL suspended Gregory indefinitely for violating its substance-abuse policy, the league notified him he had been reinstated.
Gregory called Friday “a day of celebration and thanks.”
“I am in a good place and plan to use this second chance to be a great father, player, citizen of Dallas and teammate,” Gregory tweeted in a lengthy statement. “Let’s get this!!!”
He’s eligible to report on Monday for COVID-19 testing followed by a football acclimation period. The earliest he could play in a game is Oct. 25, per league policy.
Gregory’s most recent suspension, on Feb. 26, 2019, was his fourth since he was selected by the Cowboys in the second round of the 2015 draft. Like his prior indefinite suspension, the road back was long. COVID-19 complicated it even further.
Gregory met with commissioner Roger Goodell by videoconference in May, his agent Peter Schaffer told USA TODAY Sports. But more than two months later, Gregory grew frustrated when pandemic policies complicated his access to the necessary drug tests he needed to pass.
“I’m asking more questions than I’m getting answered,” Gregory tweeted Aug. 5. “Telling me to just sit and wait in limbo over things I can’t control, all the while doing everything right off the field is unfair and flat out wrong!!”
Shortly after, he secured access to testing again. He met with NFL representation again in late August, Schaffer said, then learned of his reinstatement on Friday—nine days before the Cowboys’ season opener.
“I work on it probably every other day,” Jones told Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan Friday morning before a decision was announced. “I know every detail about Randy and the league and us. I'm not at liberty to talk about those details.
“The answer is that it is evolving and I am positive about it."
After three negative COVID-19 negative tests, Gregory will begin an acclimation period during which he can participate in conditioning activities, individual workouts and meetings, league spokesperson Brian McCarthy told USA TODAY Sports.
On October 5, he can rejoin teammates for practice.
The protocol is intended as a safety mechanism, Schaffer said.
“You can’t just go from zero to 100—in the NFL you’re going from zero to 1,000,” Schaffer said. “You can’t be working out at 24 Hour Fitness on Friday then go and play against Tyron Smith on Saturday, or the great offensive linemen in the NFL, and expect to be able to handle it.”
After the Cowboys host the Cardinals in Week 6, Gregory will be eligible to return fully. His first possible game will be the Cowboys’ Week 7 contest, scheduled for Oct. 25 at Washington.
“It’s always kind of a wait and see to see how those personalities mesh together,” McCarthy said Wednesday of the defensive line. “You’re starting to see the bonds that these guys are building and just to see the camaraderie that’s really built in that room. I know Jim Tomsula and Leon, just speaking with them in depth last night, they’re real excited about the group but more importantly just the energy that they bring to our football team.”
Gregory rejoins a pass rush rotation that includes Pro Bowl caliber talent in DeMarcus Lawrence, Everson Griffen and Aldon Smith. The coaching staff has changed since Gregory’s last active season with the Cowboys in 2018. Then, Gregory was reporting to head coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. The Cowboys have since hired Mike McCarthy in January to succeed Garrett, followed by Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator and Jim Tomsula as defensive line coach.
In training camp practices, the Cowboys’ front seven showed a penchant for multiplicity among their defensive fronts. Gregory has played previously beside some key rotation members including Lawrence, defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford and defensive tackle Antwaun Woods. Griffen and Smith are offseason acquisition as is defensive tackle Dontari Poe.
When healthy and eligible, Gregory has brought energy to the Cowboys as well. He notched a career-high six sacks in 2018 after more than a year inactive due to a prior suspension. Gregory has seven sacks, 23 quarterback hits and 45 tackles in 28 career games.
Former Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware told USA TODAY Sports he thinks Nolan’s scheme will favor the skill sets of players including Gregory and Smith, who won his reinstatement battle in May after more than four years out of the league.
“[Marinelli’s scheme was] more about coverage and the four guys getting to the quarterback,” Ware told USA TODAY Sports in May. “Now you’ve got a whole new person coming in and the 3-4 defense is all predicated on getting pressure, pushing the pocket up the middle, stopping the run, bringing the outside linebackers to create those turnovers.
“That’s why DeMarcus Lawrence and Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory can excel in this defense, because you might get a tight end. You might have to be on a running back because there’s five guys rushing now instead of four, but they can interchange those guys. And that’s what makes it hard on those offenses because they can’t block you.”
Gregory said Friday he’s in a “positive place” as he thanked the Cowboys, NFL and NFLPA representation who aided his return. Another key figure Gregory thanked was Dr. Dina Hijazi, a Dallas psychologist whose specialties include trauma, addiction, anxiety and depression among diverse ethnic and socioeconomic groups, according to her practice website. Schaffer described Gregory’s reinstatement as “the culmination of everything Randy’s been able to do changing his life positively for the last year.”
“The thing I’m most happy about,” Schaffer said by phone Friday evening, “is that starting on Monday, other people will be able to see what a great place Randy’s in.”
Gregory echoed that sentiment in the statement he tweeted out.
“It’s go time,” Gregory said.