It took forever before the fuddy-duddy NFL realized playing the violent game of football might be more hazardous to a man’s health than partaking of evil marijuana. And according to the league’s twisted logic, smoking a bowl was long considered a more serious offense than sexually harassing a woman.
So maybe it’s a little sports miracle edge rusher Randy Gregory has a job, much less a new five-year, $ 70 million contract with the Denver Broncos.
“It’s a big deal to me. There was a point in time where I didn’t think I’d be here; there were points in time I didn’t think I’d be able to get back in the league and play at the level I’m playing at now, “said Gregory, grateful for the financial gamble the Broncos took on an often-suspended , 29-year-old player who has failed approximately 100 drug tests, by his own estimation. “I think that speaks volumes (about) my effort to better myself, not only on the field but as a person.”
Whether a player abuses drugs or women, and regardless of what any of us might think about the relative severity of those transgressions, the NFL will not only forgive a man who can throw touchdown passes or sack the quarterback but richly reward him.
In this league, the sense of right and wrong is a sliding scale, so the Cleveland Browns turn a blind eye and deaf ears to 22 women who have accused Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct, while Broncos general manager George Paton bets Gregory has beaten personal demons that cost him the pain of divorce and alienation from his children.
While it’s easy to root for Gregory’s comeback story and hard to stomach the idea of Watson returning to the huddle, the reading on our moral compass doesn’t count nearly as much as the final score.
Like it or not, red flags of character are seldom deal-breakers in the NFL. Did the Browns callously insult females who work for the organization or buy tickets to the team’s games by mortgaging the future on Watson? While anyone with a heart will cheer for Gregory to beat his lifelong battle against severe social anxiety, was this move a sound football investment by the Broncos?
Before luring him away from Dallas as a free agent, Paton conducted his due diligence on a player whose history of suspension and injury caused him to miss 63 of 113 games with the Cowboys during a seven-year period.
“We did a lot of homework on Randy, like we do with all the free agents,” Paton said. “He’s beloved in the Cowboys building for everything he’s come through, the hard work, the perseverance, the grit that he showed. We all go through stuff, and he went through it and came through the other side. Look at him today. ”
OK, let’s ignore the backstory and evaluate Gregory as a football player. He’s an edge-rusher with 16.5 career sacks since being drafted in the second round out of Nebraska by the Cowboys in 2015. The Broncos are asking him to fill the void left by Von Miller, who recorded 110.5 sacks during a decade playing in Denver.
In Russell Wilson, the Broncos finally have a quarterback who can compete with Kansas City superstar Patrick Mahomes. But does Denver have the pass rush that can make life miserable for Justin Herbert and Derek Carr in the wild AFC West, where Las Vegas has acquired pass-rusher Chandler Jones and pass-catcher Davonte Adams, while linebacker Khalil Mack joined the Chargers and the Chiefs picked up receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster?
“The AFC West,” Paton said, “it’s an arms race with what everyone is doing. We embrace it. We embrace the challenge. “
Here’s the truth: In the talent-rich AFC West, the lone player on Denver’s defense who’s the best at his position is safety Justin Simmons. Cornerback Pat Surtain has Pro Bowl potential, but whether Bradley Chubb will ever reach his ceiling is now a mystery.
After dealing away draft capital to land Wilson, can Paton find an impact defensive player with the last pick of the second round? Or in a draft rich in edge rushers and cornerbacks, might it be worth trading a wide receiver (Jerry Jeudy perhaps) to move up and beef up Denver’s chances of making life harder on Mahomes?