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Cowboys' Randy Gregory addresses new CBA, future in NFL: 'I'll be back for good this time'

Randy Gregory is refreshed, rested and ready to knock around NFL quarterbacks like they owe him their lunch money. The veteran Dallas Cowboys pass rusher is currently serving an indefinite suspension levied in February 2019 due to his repeated use of marijuana, his use of it directly correlating with diagnoses of clinical anxiety, clinical depression and bipolar disorder. 

The league has taken criticism in past years over its mishandling of mental illness. Roger Goodell has promised change would come in the form of more support and fewer punishments for those who use marijuana to cope. With the new collective bargaining agreement now in place, players like Gregory -- who choose marijuana over the potential addiction that comes with Big Pharm prescriptions -- can balance their mental health with playing football at the NFL level. Both the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to not only establish a Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee, but to vastly decriminalize marijuana in football and require a licensed team clinician be on-staff with every club, who must be a seven-year practitioner who falls under one of these three categories: 

a) Board-certified psychiatrist 

b) Doctoral level clinical or counseling psychologist 

c) Professional counselor with a master's degree in counseling or social work

Gregory spoke with CBS Sports recently about several important items in his life, and while I will not share them all out respect for his progress, what I can tell you is he never formally filed for reinstatement in 2019 or in early 2020, contrary to various reports. Had he filed, Goodell would've been mandated to issue a ruling in no greater than 60 days from filing. There was no ruling, because there was no filing. My understanding is he'll need to do so in order to return to the NFL and while it's still at Goodell's discretion, the landscape change should make for a much easier conversation this time around. 

The 27-year-old is now focused on making sure his eventual return to the sport he loves would suffer no further interruptions, and that meant strengthening his support system and turning up his physical conditioning. He even took up boxing to improve his hand skills, as one example. Not only is he all-in on returning in 2020 -- he's hell-bent on never leaving again. 

"I will be back this year," Gregory expressed to me before hammering the nail flush into the wood. "Difference is, I'll be back for good this time."

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It's key to note the current suspension Gregory is serving isn't his first, but each have been tied to -- be it directly or indirectly -- the use of marijuana for the aforementioned reasons. From checking himself into a rehab facility to logging many more hours in therapy than were mandated to fully embracing the assistance of owner Jerry Jones, etc., it was a long journey for Gregory to return to the field in 2018 after serving a separate indefinite suspension. That being the case, Gregory knew applying for reinstatement in 2019, before all of his "t's" were crossed and his "i's" were dotted, would again see him risk suspension.

Under the terms of the new CBA, the league will no longer punish players who test positive for only THC, but the power remains in Goodell's hands to determine how to handle players like Gregory and Josh Gordon. If a new test is failed for solely THC, Goodell could still technically suspend Gregory. The reality, as mentioned above, is the new CBA rules make for a much easier dialogue that could simply be a mental health check -- and nothing more. 

Consider there will also be higher thresholds for positive THC tests -- the bar being raised exponentially to 150 grams from the extremely stringent previous mark of 35 -- making it that much more difficult to fail a test in the first place.

All told, while it isn't perfect, it does allow Gregory a ton of breathing room. 

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There are obvious caveats that still put players in jeopardy of suspension if the use is in violation with local and state laws, and although it's still illegal in Texas, Gregory has never been in trouble for using or being in possession of it. That is to say, even in his darkest hours, he didn't run afoul of the law. 

And for those who'd label him selfish out of a misunderstanding of how marijuana is used medically to treat conditions such as those Gregory deals with daily, something else he mentioned in our conversation jumped right out and knocked over my orange juice (no pulp). Although the new CBA appears to work in Gregory's favor as it relates to management of his own conditions, he would've voted the proposal down if allowed because, as he explained it, he wasn't willing to harm the future of every other NFL player to better his own. 

A team player of the highest order, and he's ready to rejoin his in the locker room. 

Gregory's eyes are firmly gazed on the horizon, ready to make good on his draft status and cement Jerry Jones' belief that he's not only a "damn good human being," but also an impact football player. He was available for the Cowboys in 14 regular season games in 2018 and despite logging only one start, he was second-most on the team in sacks (6) behind only DeMarcus Lawrence, and he tied Lawrence for most forced fumbles (2) that season. 

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The team went on to extend Gregory on a two-year deal valid through the 2020 season, retaining his rights with a timing that hints at Jones eyeing CBA changes -- the owner himself warning everyone to "expect an adjustment" to the league's restrictive policy on marijuana. That adjustment instead mushroomed into sweeping changes, and it clears the path for a smiling Gregory, who says he's never felt better.

"I am happy," Gregory told me. "And in a better place mentally more than ever."

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