Randy Gregory, take a bow.
You are everything that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and team vice president Stephen Jones thought you were when they picked you in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, despite all the questions and red flags.
You were well worth the wait, and on the field your role as a heat-seeking pass rusher off the edge has been immeasurable.
So when you take stock of what the sizzling-hot Cowboys have accomplished through the first six games of the season, riding a five-game winning streak and leading the NFC East by three games heading into this weekend’s bye, it’s logical that most people would start with the obvious.
Quarterback Dak Prescott is in the MVP conversation, cornerback Trevon Diggs is a candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year, and linebacker Micah Parsons is a rookie who’s playing beyond his years. Plus, you’ve got the resurgence of running back Ezekiel Elliott, the breakout play of receiver CeeDee Lamb and the play-calling wizardry of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. All are getting national attention, and rightfully so.
But no one has had a better comeback story so far this year than Gregory — on the field or off the field, considering what he has had to overcome.
But before we get to that, let’s rewind to last weekend one more time. Yes, Prescott and Lamb unquestionably were the heroes of Sunday’s 35-29 overtime victory against the New England Patriots, thanks to the walk-off 35-yard touchdown pass.
But the victory might not have been possible without Gregory, who arugably changed the game on back-to-back plays in the second quarter.
A 25-yard touchdown pass that would have put the Patriots up 21-7 was called back because Gregory drew a holding penalty. And on the ensuing play, Gregory came off the edge with lightning speed to flatten quarterback Mac Jones and force a fumble.
The Cowboys turned the turnover into a 30-yard field goal and 14-10 deficit. So instead of being down 14 points, the Cowboys only trailed by four. Credit that 10-point swing to Gregory.
Gregory finished with two sacks, a continuation of game-changing plays he’s produced since returning to the lineup after missing the Los Angeles Chargers game in Week 2 with COVID-19.
He has simply been an un-blockable force off the edge.
Gregory drew three holding penalties against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3. He had two sacks and four quarterback hits against the Carolina Panthers in Week 4. He followed with nine quarterback pressures and two quarterback hits against the New York Giants in Week 5, and then the Patriots game, in which he was the victim of a little extracurricular activity.
According to Gregory, Patriots center David Andrews speared him in the neck after the final play of regulation as Gregory was on the ground with his head on another player’s leg.
“Me, I talk a lot during the game, I think that’s part of the game, there’s some people that need that aspect of the game to get going,” said the 28-year-old Gregory. “But when you cross the line and start to do things like that it’s unfortunate. But you start whooping up on their O-line, which we were, me especially, they get pissed off so it is what it is.
“I feel like when I get pissed off and talk a little bit, I tend to play a little bit better. The last few games, I have been trying to do that. It helps me lock in.”
He is definitely locked in, and the rest of the NFL is starting to find out what the Cowboys see in practice every day, Prescott said.
“Yeah, Randy is a special player, very fortunate to have [him], very fortunate that we’re not going against him on Sundays,” he said. “He gives us headaches all week long. We know how special he is just from practice. On Sundays he’s making plays, and making plays that make a difference in the game. He’s grown so much in every aspect of his life.”
What’s most special about Gregory is the growth.
His issues since joining the Cowboys have been well chronicled.
After playing in 12 games as a rookie in 2015, he played just in just two in 2016 and none in 2017, 14 in 2018, none in 2019 and 10 in 2020 due to repeated violations of the NFL substance abuse policy and subsequent suspensions.
This is the first season Gregory has had a full offseason to prepare for since his rookie year and it is paying dividends both on and off the field.
“He’s an impact player, always has been,” Jerry Jones said. “And when he’s on the field for us, he’s impactful, to overuse the word. Gregory has unique physical abilities and has unique ways to — we call it ‘Gumby,’ but he’s not only an excellent athlete but he’s got Gumby, which means he can bend and torque and get in good positions to impact and discourage the passer, much less sack him.”
But the Cowboys also believed in him as a person. They thought that the true intentions of the man were genuine.
Gregory’s issues were rooted in anxiety and mental health that caused him to run afoul of the NFL’s archaic substance policy.
He has no problems with jurisprudence. He had only been a danger to himself in terms of his life and his career. He’s never been a threat to others.
And when you hear his passion and eloquence, you can get a sense of the man for whom the Cowboys were willing to wait.
“You know he made the highest SAT test of anybody we ever drafted, anybody,” Jones said. “And, so, he really has a good intellect. With that in mind, he is obviously smart.”
Jones, who made his money as an oil and gas wildcatter, likes to bet on smart guys and it is finally paying off for the Cowboys and Gregory.
Gregory, who has offset the temporary loss of two-time Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who has missed the last five games with a fractured foot, said he is in the best place of his life mentally and believes he is only scratching the surface as a football player.
Financially, he is setting himself up to cash in big time as a free agent in the offseason since Gregory is in his final year of his contract.
And for a guy, who worked at Amazon warehouse during his suspension to make ends meet for his family, all of this couldn’t come at a better time.
Gregory, take a bow.