The Dallas Cowboys will need a lot of things to change this season after the atrocity that was their 2020 campaign. Primarily, their defense will have to make significant improvements after yielding the most points in franchise history (473) and finishing 31st against the run.
Although their defensive performance was a disaster last season, there were a few bright spots, one being the play of Randy Gregory. After missing the entire 2019 season due to an indefinite suspension, Gregory played in 10 games and finished with 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and 12 quarterback hits. Recently, Pro Football Focus ranked the rosters of all 32 NFL teams, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. They also named an X-factor for each team, and Gregory was given that label for the 2021 Cowboys.
Ben Linsey on Gregory selection:
“The “breakout” label is typically reserved for second- or third-year players. But Randy Gregory, at 28 years old, is a legitimate breakout candidate in Dan Quinn’s defense. Gregory has played more than 300 snaps just once in his career due to a string of suspensions. He didn’t meet that 300-snap threshold last season for Dallas, but it was comfortably Gregory’s best season on a per-snap basis. He finished the year with an overall grade of 80.5. It appears he’ll have every opportunity to build on that as a starter in 2021.”
Gregory’s performance in 2020 was a reminder of how effective he can be when he’s on the field. In the only significant playing time of his career before last season in 2018, Gregory finished second on the team in sacks to DeMarcus Lawrence with six and logged two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and 15 quarterback hits in 14 games while getting his only career start.
Although Gregory played well in 2020 he did so by only being on the field for 25 percent of the Cowboy’s defensive snaps (271). That will be completely different in 2021 as Gregory is projected to start opposite Lawrence, forming a potential lethal duo of edge rushers for the Cowboy’s defense.
More playing time is certainly a reason to want to perform at your best but Gregory has some added motivation. He’s entering a contract year, and earning his first lucrative NFL deal is one thing he’s focused on, which he mentioned during mandatory minicamp when he was asked about how he would approach the final year of his deal.
“Same way I have always gone about it,” Gregory said, via The Athletic. “I should have already had a new contract. I was still on my rookie contract last year. That is kind of crazy to think about, but I understand it’s a contract year. It’s all about earning everything now. I’m going to do that on the field. Barring injury, 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.”
Randy Gregory is going through his first full offseason program since his rookie season in 2015 which will undoubtedly have him prepared for the biggest workload of his career thus far. It’s never been about talent with Gregory it’s been about availability, and with his history of suspensions seemingly being thing of the past, he can start showing regularly why he was so sought after coming out of college.