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  • Jori Epstein (USA Today)

'El Paso – thank you, but no thank you': Jerry Jones discusses split with Randy Gregory

PALM BEACH, Fla. — As the last-minute negotiations swirled, the Dallas Cowboys announced they had reached a new deal with Randy Gregory only to follow up when that deal wasn’t as sure as had been perceived.

Gregory, instead, signed a five-year, $70 million contract with $28 million guaranteed with the Denver Broncos, a person with knowledge of the terms confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly disclose the terms.

On Monday, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones discussed the nature of his call with Gregory as the Broncos offered the 2015 second-round pick that payday. Jones didn’t express remorse, disappointment or anger that a player whom he had supported through suspension now wears a different jersey. Business is business, he insists.

“I was on the phone with Randy and his agent, and I said ‘El Paso,’ that little West Texas town. I said ‘El Paso – thank you, but no thank you,’” Jones described his notification of “passing” on Gregory’s contract terms. “And he said, ‘Well I’ll go ahead and get on the plane.’ So we could have done something there, and they asked if we would do that, and I didn’t do it.

“I (chose not to) do it of my own volition.”

Jones relayed the story Monday while perched behind a high-top table at The Breakers hotel overlooking the ocean, his tone as fatherly and wistfully as when he spoke from the Senior Bowl in January saying he and Gregory were so close they could understand each other without words. Since then, Gregory has shifted off Jones’ payroll. But Jones emphasized how proud he is of the player who has battled mental health challenges that contributed to violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy sufficiently enough to warrant suspensions.

“I wish Randy, as much as I’ve ever wished a player not playing for the Cowboys, the very best,” Jones told a handful of local reporters in his first public offseason comments. “He got the best I’m about and I think we got the best that he’s about. I’m proud of him.

“Sometimes your closest-in relationship becomes the most polarized quickly and lasts the longest. I don’t want that to be the case here. I want him to have a lot of success, except when he’s playing the Cowboys.”

Gregory’s agent Peter Schaffer expressed appreciation in response.

“Randy is at the place in his life and his career because Jerry Jones and the Cowboys stood by him for six years,” Schaffer told USA TODAY Sports by phone Monday evening. “There’s an indelible debt of gratitude to Jerry and the Cowboys. With them not just sticking by him but helping him mature and learn life skills, he wouldn’t have been in position to move to another team.

“That doesn’t go unappreciated and unnoticed.”

Gregory suited up for 50 games with the Cowboys, collecting 16.5 sacks, 52 quarterback hits and eight forced fumbles in that stretch. His most productive season was 2021, when he posted six sacks in 12 healthy games while adding three forced fumbles, an interception and 17 quarterback hits.

The Broncos were intrigued by a pass rusher with rare bend and high motor. They paid.

“Any time you watch him come off the edge with that speed and power, you want that,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said Monday morning. “He can get to the quarterback and this game is about the quarterback playing good and the quarterback being affected. (He’s) able to make a difference.”

Jones said Friday that losing Gregory, like the trade of starting receiver Amari Cooper, wasn’t a surprise. Both were the Cowboys’ choices, the owner/general manager emphasized — Cooper’s contract heftier than the Cowboys deemed appropriate for his usage and value, Gregory’s price at a point for which the Cowboys deemed the alternative feasible.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Monday that he views the team as signing three players for the price of one. The Cowboys added defensive end Dante Fowler in free agency, reuniting Fowler with his former college and NFL coach in Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. The Cowboys also brought back 2018 fourth-round draft pick Dorance Armstrong and re-signed linebacker Leighton Vander Esch on a one-year deal. Stephen Jones said in Gregory’s absence, the Cowboys needed to find a new dynamic pass rusher.

“We end up with (Armstrong) and Fowler and then actually get a bonus in Leighton so it worked out,” Stephen Jones told USA TODAY Sports. “That was the plan. Obviously if we would have signed Randy, then we wouldn’t have gotten those three players. So we feel really good about that situation.”

Jerry Jones said that he’ll be proud of any way he contributed to Gregory finding stability, maturation and health in his life.

“Anything that we contributed to the fact that he is sitting here and if he will do it right, he is set for life,” he said. “Anything that we or I contributed to that I am proud of and it couldn't have gone to a better guy.”

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