(Editor's Note: NFL rosters change wildly from year to year. This year will be no different, as the Cowboys seek to upgrade their roster via free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft. Still, a large percentage of their roster is already in place, and they'll have plenty of work to do to improve last season's 6-10 record. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will evaluate those players who are already under contract, examining their past performance and future outlook. Today, we begin the series with defensive end Randy Gregory.)
The Good: Gregory was remarkably efficient given his workload and the time he missed prior to 2020. Despite only 10 appearances – and within those, roughly 40% of the defensive snaps in a rotation with starter Aldon Smith – Gregory finished the season ranked third in quarterback pressures (16), tied for third in sacks (3.5) and tied for second in forced fumbles (3). Pro Football Focus gave him the second-best overall defensive grade (80.5), behind only DeMarcus Lawrence (88.6), among players in the regular rotation.
The Bad: That we didn't get to see a full season of Gregory's impact as a edge rusher. He sat out the first six weeks of the season as part of his conditional reinstatement from a year-and-a-half suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy in February 2019. He was eligible to practice just a couple weeks before making his return last October against Washington. Yet, his numbers in just over half a season were among the best on defense. Imagine how productive he can be with a full offseason and season. As he said in late December, "As far as day to day, feeling strong, feeling like I can go out there and really play at my highest level, I've really stayed consistent with that throughout the year. Very proud of myself for that. I think in years past, I couldn't say the same. But this year, I've done a pretty good job."
Best Of 2020: Week 17 vs. Philadelphia. Arguably the most dominant performance of any defensive player last season, Gregory had 1.5 sacks in a 37-17 win over the Eagles and became the first Cowboys player in four years to force three fumbles in one game.
Contract Consideration: After Gregory's conditional reinstatement in September, the Cowboys gave him a one-year extension through the 2021 season. Gregory previously was set to be a restricted free agent this year.
What's Next: We don't know exactly how new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn plans to utilize players in his scheme, predominantly a 4-3 under over the years. But Gregory's explosiveness as an edge rusher makes him a great fit for Quinn's system. As Bucky Brooks noted in his recent "5 Bucks" column, Gregory has the skill set for the "LEO" spot on the defensive front – basically a designated pass rusher who can also play in space. (Lawrence could presumably handle that, too.) The Cowboys have a decision to make with Smith, who's set to be an unrestricted free agent in March. But Gregory could be in line for a rise in snaps next season even if Smith is re-signed, as the club has indicated they'd like to do.