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NFL AM: Cowboys’ Gregory Suspended Four Games

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The 2016 league year hasn’t even begun yet and the Dallas Cowboys have already lost a player for the first four games of the upcoming season.

The NFL announced on Friday that Dallas defensive end Randy Gregory has been suspended four games for a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Gregory reportedly failed multiple test during the 2015 season and an exhausted his appeal options before the suspension was announced.

For Dallas, it’s another blow to a defense that has talent but that is littered with players who can’t stay on the field because of suspension, injury or both. The Cowboys lost linebacker Rolando McClain to a similar suspension last year and also had defensive end Greg Hardy miss four games last season due to suspension.

But that’s the risk you take when you employ players of such low character, as the Cowboys have of late. The only reason Gregory, a consensus Top 10 draft talent, was available to Dallas at the 60th overall pick last year was because he had failed a drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine and scared teams away. That positive test put the 23-year-old in the league’s rehabilitation program, which comes with mandatory tests throughout the season.

The Cowboys happily swooped in and grabbed Gregory in the second round, one of three projected first round picks they nabbed last season along with actual first round pick Byron Jones and undrafted free agent La’el Collins, who had some issues of his own cause him to fall out of the draft. But now Dallas can see why teams were shy on the Nebraska product in the first place.

After an impressive showing during training camp, the preseason, and in the season opening win over the Giants, Gregory missed five games due to a high ankle sprain in that game. He wasn’t the same after returning from that injury and didn’t register a sack over the course of the season. Still, the defensive end showed flashes of brilliance during the season, and had the Cowboys excited about what was to come, but that excitement has to be tempered now.

Gregory is an incredible talent, and if he can put it all together on the field, Dallas will have a heck of a player. But he has to actually be able to play to do that.

There are some who will be compelled to make this about the fact that the NFL still tests for marijuana and how archaic that policy is. But the truth is, it takes a really stupid person to first test positive for weed at the Combine and then, once put into the NFL’s drug program, test positive again. This is on Gregory, not the league. And to a certain degree, it’s on the Cowboys as well, for continuing to enable players who can’t get out of their own way.

HEATH MILLER CALLS IT A CAREER

As the start of the new league year draws nearer, the retirements keep rolling in. The latest of those came on Friday when Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller announced he would retire after 11 seasons in the league.

“I will always cherish and value the special bonds that I formed with my teammates. It was truly an honor for me to take the field with them,” Miller said in a statement. “I am also appreciative of my entire family and all of the coaches who helped me along the way. Additionally, I want to thank Steelers Nation, the best fans in the NFL!”

Miller crafted a heck of a career during his more than a decade of service in the Steel City. He was a part of two Super Bowl winning teams and sits atop the record books for tight ends in the storied history of the franchise. His 592 receptions rank first among tight ends and second for all pass catchers in Steelers history, and his 6,569 receiving yards and 45 receiving touchdowns are both first among TE’s and fourth among all receivers in Pittsburgh’s books.

But as much production as he brought to the Steelers through his play, he was perhaps more valuable to Pittsburgh’s success as a leader and teammate. It’s why Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger admitted to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he got choked up when he got the call from Miller that the tight end was putting a cap on his career.

“He thanked me for being his teammate and said how lucky he was to play with just one quarterback for all of his 11 years in the NFL. I told him he had it all wrong. I told him I was the lucky one,” Roethlisberger said. “I’ve had a lot of great teammates, a lot of guys I could put up there. But what Heath personified as a player and a teammate? There’s never been another like him,” Roethlisberger I’ve never known a more unselfish player.”

While Miller’s place in Steelers lore is secure and he’ll one day soon be inducted into the team Hall of Fame, it will be a little bit more difficult for him to make it to Canton and be selected as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There are currently just eight tight ends in the Hall of Fame and Miller, just a two-time Pro Bowler, ranks modestly among them statistically.

It will be interesting to see how upcoming Hall of Fame selections play out as it relates to tight ends. There wasn’t a single tight end among the 15 finalists for the Hall this year, no less the eight inductees, and there are several that have cases to be there, most notably former Green Bay Packers tight end Sterling Sharpe.

But in the coming years, the HOF is likely to open its doors to more tight ends, led by Tony Gonzalez, who seems a lock to get in on the first ballot. Once Gonzalez is in, several others could follow and Miller would be on that list with the likes of Antonio Gates and Jason Witten. And Miller has something those two don’t, a pair of rings to use as a trump card.

BALTIMORE’S BOYLE GETS 10-GAME PED BAN

On the topic of suspensions and tight ends, the NFL also announced on Friday that Baltimore Ravens tight end Nick Boyle has been suspended for the first 10 games of the 2016 for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy.

It’s the second PED ban in just a few month for Boyle, who is entering just his second season in the NFL. He missed the final four games of the 2015 season with his first PED suspension.

Boyle’s impact was limited early in the 2015 season as he waited in line behind several other options on the Baltimore depth chart. But as injuries ravaged the Ravens roster, he emerged as a threat and ended up hauling in 18 passes before the first suspension ended the season. At the time, Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who had been complimentary of the rookie’s contributions throughout the season, expressed hope that Boyle would learn from his mistake.

“I can tell you this: it wasn’t like steroids or anything like that. When I first heard about it, that was my first thought, ‘Man, I hope it’s not something like that.’ It’s nothing like that,” Harbaugh said in December. “He was telling me how stupid it was, and I agreed. It was pretty dumb. Hopefully, he’ll grow and learn from that.”

But apparently he has not and now it’s fair to wonder if Boyle even has a place on a place on Baltimore’s roster. Crockett Gilmore stepped in and played well last season, the Ravens still have high hopes for 2015 second round pick Maxx Williams and long-time tight end Dennis Pitta is in the midst of a comeback attempt. Those factors mean Boyle could be looking for a job in the near future and trying to sell teams on taking a chance on a guy that will miss 10 games in 2016 and is one more failed test away from a season-long ban. Good luck with that.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys