Cowboys stop Randy Gregory’s draft free fall

By Connor Morgan, video by Joe Musso

Nebraska linebacker Randy Gregory, once a projected top 10 pick, had hoped to go in the first round of the NFL Draft. But as Thursday night wore on, it became clear off-the-field issues (including three failed drug tests) had degraded his draft stock.

The Dallas Cowboys finally ended Gregory’s free fall in the second round, taking him with the 60th pick.

As expected, character concerns provided the main story line that added drama to an otherwise predictable 2015 NFL Draft so far in Chicago.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not allow sexual assault allegations (though no charges) and a shoplifting citation against Jameis Winston prevent them from selecting the Florida State quarterback No. 1 overall.

But Gregory didn’t even rate a Day 1 selection.

Neither did Dorial Green-Beckham, who went No. 40 to Tennessee. The former Missouri receiver was dismissed from the team after two arrests for alleged marijuana-related incidents: One charge was dismissed and he pled guilty to a lesser charge in the other. He also was accused once of pushing a female down some stairs, although no charges were filed. Green-Beckham transferred to Oklahoma, but never played, sitting out last season because of NCAA transfer rules.

Michigan defensive lineman Frank Clark (selected 63rd by Seattle) also was plagued by off-the-field issues. He was dismissed from the team following a November arrest on suspicion of domestic violence. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. In 2012, he had pleaded guilty to second-degree home invasion for stealing a laptop, although the conviction was eventually expunged.

The NFL relaxed its policy on marijuana last year, raising the threshold for a “positive” test and increasing the number of positive tests it would take to trigger a player’s suspension. But the league believes it’s important to legislate against marijuana use, in the players’ best interests, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last week, despite the drug’s recent decriminalization in multiple states.

For Gregory, the result was a long wait until Dallas called.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Gregory said Friday night. “I could sit here all day and talk about it. Main thing is, it’s about maturing. I did a lot of self-talk. I didn’t get any sleep last night. And I’m trying not to be emotional up here, but you know, this really hit me hard.”

Gregory said he was thankful to the Cowboys and ready to put the past behind him.

“I think I made a real dumb decision, a real dumb decision,” Gregory said, alluding to the failed drug tests. “I’d probably have to say it’s the most embarrassing part of my life up to this point. And I’m just ready to fix it.

“ And you know the best way I know how to do that is go out there on the football field and make plays and carry myself the way I was brought up by my parents.”

Gregory said he was excited to play for the storied organization and promised to stay out of trouble off the field and make big plays on it.

“There is a lot of tradition with this organization, and I don’t want to be the one to, you know, bring bad light on that,” Gregory said. “And I won’t.”

Gregory joins a Cowboys team that is no stranger to controversy.

The Cowboys drafted controversial receiver Dez Bryant with the 24th pick in the 2010 draft. While at Oklahoma State, Bryant was ruled ineligible for the bulk of the 2009 season for failing to disclose his interactions with Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.  The 10-game suspension effectively ended Bryant’s college career.

But Bryant has been a productive receiver in Dallas.  He was named first-team All-Pro in 2014 after catching 16 touchdown catches, breaking Terrell Owens’ season franchise record.

Dallas signed former Carolina Panthers defensive lineman Greg Hardy to a one-year contract in the offseason. Last month, the NFL suspended him for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, even though domestic abuse charges were dismissed in February.

Gregory declined to elaborate Friday on what led to his marijuana use. He said he and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones discussed the situation.

“They have a great support system there,” he said of the Cowboys. “Obviously, they had guys there in the past they worked with, and that’s one of the big things we probably looked at I think it’s probably the best spot for me in this draft. It really is. … Me and the Cowboys, we are going to take over this league.”

Additional reporting by Nick Kariuki.