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Helman: Gregory News Emphasizes Pass Rush As Cowboys' Biggest Need

IRVING, Texas – Knee-jerk reactions aren't the hallmarks of successful football clubs.

When you're talking about the world of NFL contracts and big-money decisions, it's always the long play that has to be considered. It takes a big picture approach to successfully navigate the slow churn of the salary cap era.

All of that said, things suddenly look quite bleak for the Cowboys' pass rush, don't they?

The NFL handed down a four-game suspension of Randy Gregory on Friday afternoon, ensuring that last year's No. 60 overall pick won't be available for the first four games of the 2016 season. It's a loss that further hamstrings what was already a thin group on the Dallas defensive line.

I've already beaten this stat into the ground this offseason, but it bears repeating. Only one Cowboys defensive end currently under contract – DeMarcus Lawrence – has recorded a sack in a regular season game. Gregory has yet to notch a career sack, but he was widely regarded as a key piece of the rotation at the all-important right defensive end spot.

There's a long way to go until Opening Day of the 2016 season, but as it stands right now you're looking at Lawrence, Ryan Russell and Efe Obada as this team's current defensive ends. David Irving has the flexibility to play at end, and that adds another 0.5 career sacks to the equation.

This was true before Gregory got suspended, and it's even more apparent now: this team needs pass rushers in the worst way.

Again, it seems silly to drastically change your offseason strategy based on one four-game suspension. Gregory will be available for the offseason program and training camp, and he'll be eligible to return to the lineup as early as October.

At the same time, where are you getting your production from in the meantime? There's a litany of options in the NFL draft – Ohio State super-prospect Joey Bosa comes to mind. But how likely is it that a rookie is going to completely revamp your pass rush?

Lawrence contributed two sacks during his rookie campaign, while Gregory provided the aforementioned zero. DeMarcus Ware probably set the standard for what one might expect from a rookie pass rusher back in 2005, and even then he managed just eight sacks.

At the risk of trying to predict the Cowboys' offseason maneuvers, they certainly look like they need help on multiple fronts. All of a sudden, the free agent market looks pretty interesting.

When we closed the book the 2015 season, it looked pretty unlikely that either Jeremy Mincey or Greg Hardy had a future in Dallas. Does the line of thinking perhaps change now? How much higher of a priority is Jack Crawford, who has been a serviceable member of the rotation for two years?

Or will this help spur the Cowboys into spending some of the money they've managed to save these past three years? There's a variety of interesting free agents on the market next month, be it Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon or Muhammad Wilkerson.

The veteran market also looks promising, as Chris Long was just released Friday and several other high-profile names may follow.

It's anybody's guess what the Cowboys decide to do, and just to reiterate: it would be a mistake to overreact to the four-game suspension of a second-year defensive end.

The point still stands, though. The Cowboys have their work cut out for them if they're going to make their pass rush viable in 2016. That much was true before Randy Gregory got suspended, but as it stands right now it just might be the biggest problem facing this team.


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