The low point of the Cowboys’ 2022 offseason was easily the very public flip-flop and free agency exodus of defensive end Randy Gregory. First, the team had re-signed the veteran edge rusher and even announced it on social media. Then within hours, he was gone again, having changed his mind to sign with Denver, supposedly over objectionable language in his contract.
But watching team owner Jerry Jones spin the story more than a month later to make it seem like it worked out the way he wanted all along is proving to be almost as embarrassing.
At Tuesday’s pre-draft press conference at The Star in Frisco, Jones added new details to the story that simply don’t jibe with things like logic or common sense.
And Gregory took to social media shortly thereafter, asking for a wake-up call for his former boss.
“As you know, I think a lot of Randy and how he has evolved in where he is in his career,” Jones said Tuesday at the team’s annual pre-draft press conference. “But he evolved so well that he got beyond where I wanted to go, what with the guarantees that were going to be involved to have Randy here. And I could have done it. It was unacceptable to us.”
It’s well-known that the Nebraska product missed two entire seasons and almost all of a third serving various league suspensions for violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
The Cowboys stood by Gregory’s side through all of it. Since his return during the 2020 season, he was named to the team’s leadership council and missed only the team’s Week 2 game last year (on COVID protocol) and sat out four midseason games with a calf injury.
Reaching new terms with Gregory became one of the club’s priorities for the offseason.
The contract language that soured the Dallas deal last month reportedly involved the Cowboys’ right to withhold financial guarantees in case of a league fine or suspension. The Cowboys maintained that it’s standard in their contracts (except for quarterback Dak Prescott), but Gregory and his agent claimed it was slipped in late and wanted it removed from the paperwork.
The Cowboys refused to do so. Denver reportedly offered the same contract without that clause. And Gregory was gone.
Jerry suggested that despite a since-relaxed substance abuse policy now in place with the league and with a $70 million deal on the table on March 15, Gregory’s ability to stay on the field was- out of nowhere- suddenly a pressing concern for the Cowboys brass.
“Availability was a big item here. Being available,” Jones mysteriously explained Tuesday. “And you can reach a point where if you’ve got a big question mark on availability- forget the ability- if you’ve got a big question mark on availability, do you want to strap on millions and millions of dollars to your salary cap with that big a question mark and availability? It got too high for the benefit of the team.”
Was there really some new worry about Gregory’s availability? If so, where did it come from?
Jones had always been a staunch supporter of Gregory’s. He wasn’t overly concerned about availability during Gregory’s multiple suspensions. And he clearly still roots for Gregory as a person.
“Frankly, individually,” Jones said at the presser, “I like him about as well as anybody I’ve ever been around as far a player of the Cowboys.”
But now, judging by Gregory’s own Twitter response to Jones’s latest spin job, the feeling may no longer be mutual.
Jones was also asked about the effect that Gregory’s departure had on the Cowboys’ draft strategy and free agency spending, if adding a pass rush prospect had suddenly become more of a priority for a team that already has several roster holes to patch.
“I’d rather have the two,” Jones said, “than the one.”
The two Jones is referring to are Dorance Armstong and Dante Fowler. Armstrong, a four-year veteran with 4.5 career sacks, was signed to a new deal in Dallas two days after the Gregory debacle. Dante Fowler, a former first-round pick who will turn 28 before the season opener and is coming off a knee injury, was hired via free agency four days after that.
It’s possible that both moves would have been made even had Gregory stayed in Dallas. Possible, but pretty unlikely. What’s more probable is that the team scrambled to lock in Armstrong and Fowler as contingency plans after Gregory bolted.
But Jones is trying to sell an alternative reality that things have worked out better this way, that he inexplicably chose to not sign Gregory to the contract that the team had already announced so he could go out afterward to sign two lesser players as part of his replacement platoon.
“To his credit and their credit, Denver wanted him more than we did,” Jones said. “And that’s not a hard adjustment, because we got extra players for that, and we wouldn’t have. We wouldn’t have had the players that we got we signed Randy. Period. And I’d rather have the two than the one.”
Armstrong has performed well for the Cowboys. Fowler likely has plenty left in the tank and will be a solid veteran contributor. But neither player is Randy Gregory, even though Stephen tried to claim in mid-April that Armstrong alone is “right there” with Gregory from a production standpoint.
Even combining the two players’ talents, Dallas is a lesser team for having lost Gregory. And defensive end is definitely a position the team has to be considering supplementing in this week’s draft and beyond.
There’s no other way to spin that.