FRISCO, Texas -- In 2015, Randy Gregory happily walked onto the stage at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago to be greeted by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as the Dallas Cowboys’ second-round pick.
Projected to be a first-round pick, Gregory slipped to No. 60 overall because of off-field issues, but on this spring night, Gregory was ecstatic just the same.
Three years later, Gregory had another audience with Goodell. This time, it was at 345 Park Avenue at the NFL offices in New York, where he sought his reinstatement to a league that had suspended him for 30 of 32 regular-season games over the 2016 and 2017 seasons because of multiple violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
“I told Roger I had this idea what it was supposed to be like growing up,” Gregory said. “You think it’s fast cars and partying and women, and I told him, ‘I did it just like that.’ Growing up, I thought that’s what it meant to be a professional athlete. I think subconsciously that’s what I went for, coming into the league. It backfired. I kind of lost track of the real me, the authentic me, and had to backtrack to figure out why and kind of build myself back up.
“Think of it like working out. You tear all the fibers in your arms and legs, and then you build it back up and come back stronger. That’s pretty much what I had to do mentally and emotionally.”
On Tuesday, Gregory gained conditional reinstatement to the league, a status that will allow him to be with the team when training camp starts next week. Once the league gets an understanding of Gregory’s continuing care while in Oxnard, California, for camp and then when the team returns to Texas, he will be fully cleared to practice and play in games.
“I could see we were on the right track, but if you asked me at this time last year [if reinstatement would be possible], I would’ve said no,” Gregory said.
With the help of attorney Daniel Moskowitz, longtime NFL marketing agent Mike Ornstein, consultant Tana Ashton and others, Gregory has been able to get close to returning to the field for the first time since recording his first sack in the 2016 regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles. He's done it through rehabilitation, rigorous testing and mental health counseling.
“I was most impressed with Randy on how he spoke with the program officials,” Moskowitz said. “No one knows the story better than he does. He was himself. Obviously going to 345 Park is intimidating, but Randy handled it all great.”
He even held a job with Genesco Sports, a sports marketing firm.
“I enjoyed it and want to do sports marketing -- that’s a passion for me -- but sitting at a cubicle at 9 and leave at 5, that’s not for me. At least not yet,” Gregory said.
He wants his day job to be as a Cowboys pass-rusher for as long as possible, understanding that this is his final chance. He will continue to be tested up to 10 times a month through the league’s drug policy.
The marketing job provided him some structure. Being around the team again will provide structure, too.
“I’ve always had it. I just haven’t been very good leaning on the support,” Gregory said. “I want that to be known. The team always supported me and got me a certain level of structure. I was a manipulator to an extent, and I didn’t lean on it when I needed to. This go-around, I’ve been taking the structure and using it to my advantage. That’s how you build trust and have better relationships and connections.”
Since his meeting in June with Goodell, Gregory has lived in California, working out with a trainer and going through football-specific drills with former Raiders defensive end Greg Townsend.
“It’s similar to what we do in like an individual session with the D-line group with Coach [Rod] Marinelli,” Gregory said. “Lots of lifting and cardio stuff I do separate, but my pass-rushing, hand placement, eyes, get-off, all those things that go into being a good pass-rusher, but not just that [of] a good defensive end, I work with him and it’s definitely helped. It’s hard to gauge where I’m at as far as playing against somebody because I’ve not gone game speed or against somebody, don’t have pads on. That will be interesting to see, but I’m up for the challenge.”
Almost from the night he was picked by the Cowboys, it’s been a challenge for Gregory. He is not sure if he is in the beginning, the middle or the end of his story.
“I’d say the middle, but at the same time, that chapter is closed in my life,” Gregory said. “But at the same time, it’s like a new beginning, a start to something better. And just a whole different outlook on life, different set of morals and values and an appreciation for things, not being impulsive about things. A whole different person.”
Said Moskowitz, “He’s just trying to be the person he’s supposed to be.”
“Trying to,” Gregory said.