FRISCO - "Self-love,'' Randy Gregory calls it, and it has been a long time coming for the Dallas Cowboys defensive end.
“There was a time in my life when you could ask me to say one good thing about myself,'' Gregory says, "and I couldn’t. I could say 20 bad things. I have come a long way from that where I can say a lot of good things about myself. I am very proud of myself. I am proud of where I am at. I am proud of the journey I took.''
Gregory, by virtue not only of his talent but also of his personality and his intellect, represents one of the Cowboys' most compelling stories. He has been suspended frequently for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, causing his behavior to overshadow anything he's done since being drafted in the second round by the Cowboys in 2015.
It has been a climb, and not always a steady one. But, insists Gregory, 28, "it's in the past.''
Says Gregory, “I’ve done a great job the last few years with the team on and off the field, and I’m looking forward to the future, if that’s three years, five years, whatever it is. I’m having fun. I’m doing what I need to do. The coaches love me, the players love me, at least I think they do, and I’m not worried about all the other stuff. I’m doing a good job.”
The Cowboys agree. The Jones family has always supported Gregory. Last year's coaching staff, led by newcomer Mike McCarthy, was frankly slow to do the same in terms of allowing playing time to Gregory, though he was arguably Dallas' most impactful defender in the 10 games in which he did participate.
“He’d better want to play more, because I plan on playing him more,” McCarthy says with a chuckle. “I think the most important thing for him is he’s been here every day. … He’s doing great, looks great and we’re expecting big things from him.”
"Big things'' mean even more than the 3.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hits he recorded in the final 10 games of the year after coming off of suspension while always coming off the bench.
Gregory sounds ready.
“I think my best years are to come,'' he says. "They are ahead of me. Very excited for the future. As long as there is a lot of positive thinking and staying around the right people, keeping my obligations in the right place and having the right priorities off the field and on the field, I will be all right.”
Over the years, those close to Gregory have often quietly expressed the importance of him accepting his role in what was often a chaotic existence. He seems to be doing so now.
"I have made a lot of mistakes,'' he says. "But I think I have earned what I have gotten, whether it’s bad or good. And I am going to continue to do that.''
There is a business side to football, a financial side, and Gregory's suspensions have always prevented him from taking full advantage of that. It so happens that 2021 is a contract year for the Nebraska product.
“I was still on my rookie contract last year (due to the rules related to his suspensions),'' he says. "That is kind of crazy to think about, but I understand it’s a contract year. It’s all about earning everything now. ...I think I will be all right. I love it here. I love the owners. I love the staff. I love the players. When that time comes, we will talk about it.
"But from where I came from I am not thinking about a damn contract right now before the season starts. I still got a lot to do.”