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What does Randy Gregory’s reinstatement mean for the Cowboys?

Randy Gregory was suspended for 30 games in his first three years with the Cowboys.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Randy Gregory has been on the field for the Dallas Cowboys for just 14 games since he was picked in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. For 30 games, the defensive end was suspended — including all 16 games in the 2017 season.

Now, Gregory is primed to return to the field for the first time since New Year’s Day 2017. The league announced Tuesday that Gregory was reinstated to the NFL.

Gregory is cleared to rejoin the Cowboys next week when the team opens training camp.

Here’s the statement from the NFL:

NFL Senior Vice President of Labor Policy & League Affairs Adolpho Birch notified Randy Gregory of the Dallas Cowboys today that he has been reinstated to the NFL on a conditional basis.

Gregory may join the Cowboys at training camp and participate in meetings, conditioning work and similar activities. Once arrangements have been confirmed regarding Gregory’s clinical resources in Dallas, and subject to continued compliance with the terms of his reinstatement and all aspects of the NFL-NFLPA Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse, he will be permitted to participate in all activities, including practices and games.

Gregory has been suspended without pay for violating the substance of abuse policy since January 2017 following a suspension of 14 games during the 2016 season.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell cleared the path for Gregory’s return to the field after reviewing the results of a six-month intensive rehab program that reportedly cost somewhere in the ballpark of $250,000.

According to the source briefed on the application, Gregory’s representatives provided the NFL with “five to six boxes” of information and letters from counselors and others who have supported Gregory’s effort – most notably, six straight months of daily drug tests Gregory has passed dating back to December 2017. The presentation also included a plan outlining a structure that would keep Gregory on track if he were to be reinstated to the league, and the source added that he’s expected to begin football-specific training with former Oakland Raiders defensive end Greg Townsend in the coming weeks.”

Despite the lineman’s past issues, Goodell was swayed by the hard work and progress the former second-round pick has made.

What does this mean for the Cowboys?

Assuming he doesn’t have another transgression, Gregory will be a welcomed addition to a team that could use another pass rusher.

DeMarcus Lawrence was a breakout player for the Cowboys in 2017 with 14.5 sacks, but the next best pass rusher on the team was defensive tackle David Irving with seven sacks. As it happens, Irving will serve a four-game suspension to start 2018.

The starter at defensive end opposite Lawrence in 2017 was Tyrone Crawford — a solid starter with 16.5 sacks in the last four years. But he’s never had more than five sacks in a season and spent part of his career at defensive tackle.

There’s also 2017 first-round pick Taco Charlton on the roster, who had three sacks as a rookie.

If either Gregory or Charlton are able to bring a legitimate pass rushing threat to the Dallas defensive line to pair with Lawrence, it could push Crawford back to the interior. And it would be a significant boost to a defense that gave up the sixth most passing touchdowns in 2017. However, the past three years of Gregory’s journey have meant the Cowboys aren’t ready to rely on the young lineman just yet.

What does this mean for Gregory?

His four-year rookie deal was set to expire in 2019, but missing all of 2017 means his contract will toll and keep him under contract until the 2020 offseason. That’s probably not a bad thing for a player with one career sack and twice as many games for which he was suspended than games played.

He’ll have two years to prove he’s worth giving another deal.

The clear top priority for Gregory will be proving that his off-field concerns are no more. All three of his suspensions — four games in 2016, another 10 games in 2016, and 16 games in 2017 — were because of violations of the league’s substance-abuse policy. Another violation would almost certainly mean the end of his NFL career.

Gregory has many people convinced another problem won’t happen.

“I have been proud of Randy during this offseason,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told the team website earlier in May. “I’m very aware of how hard he’s working to get back in the league and get back on the field.”

Most importantly, he convinced the NFL with a presentation that reportedly included “2,000 pages of defense material and testimony.” A few of his Cowboys teammates were among those who fought for Gregory’s reinstatement:

If he’s finally able to stay clean, Gregory will get the chance to show why the Cowboys made him a second-round pick and prove why the team was right to be so patient with him.