Spagnola: Cowboys Truly Believe They Can Survive Close To The Edge

IRVING, Texas – My guess is Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has never met the band members from the group Yes, and those guys from the 1970s English rock band won't file a copyright infringement against the Dallas Cowboys.

         But with the beginning of the 2015 NFL offseason, along with this weekend's NFL Draft, the title of this platinum album Yes released in 1972 appropriately characterizes life with your Dallas Cowboys:

         Close To The Edge.

         You had better hope the Cowboys don't lose their equilibrium trying the best they can to regain the Super Bowl glory they last tasted 20 years ago, giving new meaning to the risk-reward philosophy Jones embraced wildcatting in the oil and gas business that he brought to running this NFL franchise.

         We have come to know this gambling motto well: High risk, high reward. Low risk, low reward. And they normally have chosen their spots well.

         Suddenly, though, the spots are multiplying like potholes on I-35.

Let's see, last year the Cowboys took a financially conservative chance on linebacker Rolando McClain, a former top-10 draft choice who had not played football in more than a year. And they have re-signed him again to another one-year production-based deal even as reports surfaced he is one positive test away from NFL suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

The Cowboys have signed defensive end Greg Hardy to a similarly-structured performance-based, one-year contract, fully expecting the NFL would suspend him for his involvement in a domestic abuse case back in Charlotte, N.C., and now are hoping Hardy's appeal of the recently-handed-down 10-game suspension for the all-encompassing *conduct detrimental to the league *is at least reduced in half for the coming season.

They have taken on the responsibility of helping Josh Brent transition back into a normal life and the NFL after a jail sentence and 10-game suspension for being behind the wheel in an involuntary intoxication manslaughter conviction

Their backup running back Joe Randle recently has been cleared of any domestic abuse charges from an incident involving the mother of his children in Wichita, Kan., but the strong arm of the NFL still is investigating the case to see if their findings should supersede the DA's office and result in a suspension.

Let's see, unsigned veteran free-agent special teamer C.J. Spillman waits in limbo as the NFL continues its investigation into his involvement in domestic abuse cases still lacking legal charges.

There is All-Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant following representative instructions to boycott the current voluntary workouts in hopes of convincing the Cowboys to replace his franchise tag with a long-term contract offer to their liking, though Dez did make a pass through The Ranch this weekend, assuring me he was diligently working out on his own.

There is Orlando Scandrick shamelessly withholding his services during these strength and conditioning workouts, claiming he is being underpaid, even though the Cowboys gave him a hefty guaranteed advance last season on this year's base salary … at his request.

And as if all that were not enough tiptoeing on the edge, now this …

The Cowboys overshadowed their 2015 NFL Draft this weekend with the 60th pick in the second round by going all in on Nebraska troubled defensive end Randy Gregory, who reportedly tested positive multiple times at Nebraska and then admitted to testing positive for marijuana at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, basically his professional job fair interview.

Gregory, a sure top-10 pick based on his talent, the guy considered by the Cowboys the best edge rusher in this draft and top 5 on their board overall, plummeted out of the first round. Nobody wanted to touch him, the guy, not the player, that is until the Cowboys, desperately trying to improve an anemic pass rush and not knowing just when they will regain the services of Hardy, plunged all in late in the second round, willing at that point to take on the guaranteed risk for the potential high reward.

"When we do it," Jones said of taking on this kind of risk, "it's got to be worth it to me."

         Gregory certainly the anti-Byron Jones, their high-character cornerback/safety they selected with their 27th pick in the first round.

         Yes, for sure living on the edge, and Jerry Jones has a great capacity to do so – see purchasing the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 when the franchise was losing money hand over fist. As for me, I would have run as fast as I could from Gregory, since this is not a one-time occurrence, but a pattern of behavior. But then, I, too, was the guy who said a month before the 2010 draft to stay away from one Dez Bryant. His background, how he was forced to grow up, troubled me more than the person Dez Bryant or anything that might have happened at Oklahoma State. After all, we usually are where we came from.

         That's why they kicked me out of the draft room, er, uh, never let me in, not even to visit after all these years.

         And I will tell you this: Gregory sure took a significant bite out of those just drooling to grill him during his media conference call Friday night and then in print thereafter. He was forthcoming. He seemed sincere. He answered the questions without getting frustrated or defensive. Straight up.

         Now if only his first impressions on how he is motivated to change, to overcome whatever reason why he admittedly had been addicted to smoking the whacky weed become lasting impressions. That now is on the Cowboys.

         And him.

The good thing? He realizes as much.

         "I know I made a mistake," Gregory said of his confidence to overcome his behavioral issues. "I know there is only so much I can say – talk is cheap sometimes. I really want to show these guys what I can do and I am really serious about what I say.

         "I gave that staff my word plenty of times, and I really feel like they believe me. I can't wait to show them. … I just can't wait to get out on that field and get out in the real world and show them what I can do."

         For the Cowboys' part, they do not come into this naively. Nor are they coddling him. Gregory described his conversations during his official visit to The Ranch with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli as "fatherly." He described the words from head coach Jason Garrett as "stern."

         In fact, on the phone call to inform he had been drafted by the Cowboys, owner Jerry Jones did the same with him as he did right after Greg Hardy signed his contract, basically telling the rookie defensive end that a lot of people here have put their necks on the line for him, and that they expect him to do the right thing. Garrett's message was one day at a time.

Got it?

         This is a side you guys rarely get to see from Garrett; rarely get to see from Marinelli, unless of course you are privy to training camp practices. Uh, worth the price of admission (free). Training camp, BTW, begins late July.

         Marinelli, who says Gregory reminds him of a defensive end he had at Tampa Bay, one Simeon Rice, and insists if Gregory is serious about turning his life around, then football has to be of the utmost importance to him.

         "I think if you really love football, it can change your life, I really believe that," the veteran defensive coordinator said. "It's so important to him. And then now you structure him after that. It's about structure; if you like football, if you love football, the structure is not that hard, helps you be what you want to be.

         "I'll bring it to the man's attention, and once we agree on it, then I expect him to hold his side up to the bargain. Sometimes you just tell them what they need to hear. I don't overdo it. Just kind of clear, precise, and hold them accountable."

         Told Gregory said he's asked you to be hard on him, and wondering if the rookie knows what he's asking for, Marinelli grinned, saying it's going to be "more than he's going to bite of."

         That's one guy. But there is a bevy of guys the Cowboys have to keep an eye on, guys who require structure. And not just any guys, but guys particularly critical to this team's potential success. I mean, what if McClain, Hardy, Gregory and Josh Brent flourish on this defense? What if Bryant and Scandrick come back happy campers? What if Randle takes the knuckle portion out of his head?

         Let your imagination wander.

         But again, it's not going to happen by hoping or by accident. Cowboys COO Stephen Jones firmly believes the Cowboys have the structure to manage this situation. He believes Garrett, a firm believer in having "the right kind of guys" on his team, will be comfortable handling "this situation we have right now."

         "It's the sum of our organization," says Jones, and it should be noted none of the principles in charge of this guidance is shying away from the challenge. Their success can impact the team's success. They know that, that's their job. So can that locker room environment. See Jason Witten, Sean Lee, Tony Romo, Jeremy Mincey, Doug Free, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Barry Church.

         So maybe with Gregory, they all look at it as, hey, what's one more to wrap their arms around.

         We'll see.

         But Marinelli insists this all comes back to football:

         "No. 1 thing: How much do they love football? These guys love football. And I think guys will make changes in their lives if the structure is right, and that's our job to create the right structure from the head coach to the owner down. And we have a strong team in terms of character on this team.

         "They love football here, and I just think that once you get in that type of environment you count on that to help you and create the type of team we want."

           Yes sir, to keep them from falling over that fine edge the Cowboys are walking.

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