INDIANAPOLIS – There's no sense in denying it – Randy Gregory's recent suspension puts the Cowboys in a bit of a bind as they prepare for the start of the new league year.
Sure, it's only four games, and it was already a position of need, given that three Cowboys defensive ends are going to hit free agency next month. All of that said, team executive vice president Stephen Jones didn't mince words when asked about the Cowboys' pass rush prospects going forward.
"I think it puts a little more pressure, to be candid with you -- when you know you're going to open up without a guy you felt good about," Jones said Tuesday from league meetings at the NFL Combine.
The NFL announced on Friday that Gregory would be suspended the first-four game of the 2016 season – another disappointing blow for last year's No. 60 overall pick, who didn't register a sack in his rookie year.
It's not a setback that should affect Gregory's job security for the time being, as Jones said the Cowboys are "confident" the young pass rusher can work through his issues. At the same time, the fact that Gregory won't be available for 25 percent of next season – or potentially more – has to be concerning for the front office.
"Hopefully he'll do better as we move forward," Jones said. "But at the same time we're not going to have him for four games and there's risk that four could become more. So we'll obviously have to look at that position."
How they figure to do that isn't something Jones was ready to disclose. The Cowboys should have a decent amount of cap room when free agency opens on March 9, but Jones didn't want to speculate about the possibility of adding new talent – or retaining Cowboys free agents like Greg Hardy or Jeremy Mincey.
"We haven't made that decision," Jones said. "We're not going to get into the details and certain names as to who we're going to target. But as we move forward, it will certainly, probably become more apparent."
That's not to say the Cowboys are guaranteed to flash cash in the free agency market this spring, as Jones repeated his regular line that he prefers to build through the draft, rather than free agency. Given the circumstances, though, he was careful not to rule anything out.
"I'm not a big fan of free agency, I'll be the first to admit it. Unfortunately, good players get paid like they're great players, average players get paid like they're good players and it's a domino effect," he said. "It's not a great way to put your team together, but I think sometimes there are necessities that you need to jump out and do some things."
Whether the lack of depth at defensive end qualifies as a "necessity," only the Cowboys' brass can say. But losing Gregory for four games certainly doesn't help.