Back from drug ban, Cowboys’ Gregory speaks of deeper issues
Now that he’s on the verge of playing after a year away from the NFL, the former Nebraska standout wants people to know there are deeper issues of mental health that Gregory isn’t comfortable discussing in detail publicly.
“I was self-sabotaging,” Gregory said Monday in his first group session with reporters at training camp in California. “Anybody that deals with what I have to deal with and what I’ve gone through and understands the process of what I’ve been through, I think can understand there’s also a mental aspect to it along with emotional.”
Gregory was suspended three times in less than a year, the last a yearlong ban for multiple violations of the league’s substance-abuse policy. He missed the 2017 season and waited an extra six months to apply for reinstatement to try to improve his chances.
The detailed application included letters of recommendation from several teammates, most notably 2016 All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee, and won the approval of Commissioner Roger Goodell in time for Gregory to join the Cowboys at camp.
Gregory’s time away included stints in rehab and therapy, and the 25-year-old acknowledged that he had to learn to take those efforts more seriously.
“It’s not just somebody walking around carelessly doing what they want,” Gregory said. “There’s obviously a mental aspect to it that plays a big part in it for me that I’ve had to try to figure out. The moment I took a more serious approach to that with my therapy and the more people around me understood what I was going through mentally, made it a lot easier for me to get right.”
The Cowboys drafted Gregory late in the second round in 2015. He was considered a first-round talent before testing positive for marijuana at the combine.
Gregory made it through his first season without getting suspended, missing four games with an ankle injury but going without a sack in his 12 appearances. The first suspension was announced in the offseason, followed by a 10-game ban before the four-game suspension had expired.
He played the final two games in 2016, finally getting his first sack in the finale when the Cowboys had already wrapped up the NFC East title. The third suspension hit before Dallas lost a divisional playoff game to Green Bay.
“We try to keep our eyes wide open about what any issues a player might have coming in and we’re optimistic if we put them in the right environment they can respond the right way,” coach Jason Garrett said. “It will not be 100 percent successful. But we’ve had a lot of players who have grown a lot in our organization.”
The Cowboys brought Gregory along slowly at camp, first allowing him to participate in pre-practice walkthrough sessions. Individual drills in practice were next, and finally some 11-on-11 work for the first time this week.
Owner Jerry Jones, never afraid to gamble on draft picks and equally willing to stick with them, said he thinks Gregory can be ready for the opener at Carolina on Sept. 9.
“We certainly have had players that have had challenges with dependence,” Jones said. “Now the problem is reality sets in and you have numbers and roster spots. You get the old adage of, ‘Well, he wouldn’t be doing that for a down-the-line guy or he wouldn’t be that tolerant of a down-the-line guy.’ That’s actually very true.”
Three years after vowing to Jones that he would do his best to overcome the issues that led to him slipping in the draft, Gregory is cautiously optimistic that can deliver with his second chance.
“I think first and foremost they like me as not only a player but as a person,” Gregory said. “I’ve always tried to do the right thing. I know I always haven’t. But I’ve tried. I think they realized I was a person in need and sticking by me throughout that tough part and even now has been real important for me to get back. And I think it’s worked.”
The Cowboys and Gregory will find out soon enough.