What do David Irving, Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory have in common? They are Cowboys defensive ends who have faced NFL suspensions the past year.
A team in need of pass rushers can’t keep its pass rushers on the field.
The three defensive ends will miss a minimum of 38 combined games because of suspension, with Gregory serving 30 games of that.
The NFL first suspended Gregory for a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy during the 2015 season. Before Gregory even could serve the four-game suspension to start the 2016 season, he earned another 10 games for missing a test. Gregory played the final two games of last season while appealing at least a year-long suspension, but his appeal was denied, and he isn’t eligible to return until at least January.
On June 30, 2016, the league suspended Lawrence for the first four games of the 2016 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Now, it’s Irving, who will miss four games for an over-the-counter performance enhancing drug banned by the NFL.
The Cowboys, who had 36 sacks last season, could use all three. They haven’t ranked in the top 10 in sacks since 2011. They haven’t had a double-digit sack leader since defensive tackle Jason Hatcher made 11 in 2013.
The Cowboys took chances on Lawrence and Gregory with second-round picks in back-to-back drafts despite both having red flags. Lawrence showed promise in 2015 with eight sacks but took a step back last season with only one in nine games. Between Gregory’s injuries and suspensions, the Cowboys still don’t know what they have in him and may never know.
The Cowboys signed Irving, who also had red flags after being dismissed from Iowa State, off Kansas City’s practice squad in 2015. He was their best pass-rusher last season, with four sacks, a team-best 26 quarterback pressures and four forced fumbles. Now, he will have his progress interrupted.
With a revolving door at the position, and a lack of a war daddy pass-rusher since DeMarcus Ware left, it’s no wonder the Cowboys haven’t had a consistent pass rush. Giving Aaron Rodgers too much time cost them in their last two playoff losses over the past three seasons, so the Cowboys’ chances of getting where they want to go hinge on getting to the quarterback.