Randy Gregory should not be treated differently

News broke last Thursday that former Nebraska defensive end and potential top-10 NFL Draft pick Randy Gregory tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine.

Gregory said in an interview with NFL.com he has been smoking marijuana since he attended Arizona Western Community College in 2011. After failing to get into Purdue University, Gregory admitted he used the drug to deal with anxiety. In 2013, Gregory transferred to Nebraska, where he became a ferocious pass rusher and more dependent on pot.

“I was worse at Nebraska than I’ve ever been at any other time of my life,” Gregory told NFL.com’s Kimberly Jones. “But I know how I am now. I think if teams really look at how I am now more so than the past, they’ll see I’m making strides to get better, as a person and as a player.”

Gregory’s comments were quite alarming to many NFL executives, but his quote also generates an interesting question for talent evaluators not just in the NFL, but across the sports landscape.

How does an executive, coach or owner balance a player’s talent with his individual character?

The commonly used cliché when such transgressions are revealed is “red flag.” Many believe this red flag could negatively affect Gregory’s draft stock. These markers frequently appear around draft time, when teams and players are rigorously evaluating not only a player’s skill set, but his background too.

Jameis Winston, another member of the upcoming draft class, may be the most physically gifted and most pro-ready quarterback since Andrew Luck in 2012. However, sexual assault allegations, a citation for theft at a grocery store and various other, foolish mistakes have many experts and analysts labeling Winston as a gigantic risk.

Yet Winston is projected by many to be taken first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and is expected to become the face of a fledging franchise.

Meanwhile, in a draft class rich with talented outside pass rushers, Gregory is now seen as expendable and may suddenly be too risky to take with a top-10 pick.

The only way for a general manager, owner, scout or coach to overlook these potential downfalls is quite simple: winning.

Winston is projected to be a star and gives the Buccaneers a better chance to win games this season and in the future than they would have with Mike Glennon running the offense.

Winning is why the Chicago Bears made a controversial decision to sign defensive tackle Ray McDonald to fortify a lousy front seven. McDonald was released by the San Francisco 49ers in December after he was investigated for domestic abuse. He has yet to be charged, but the case remains open. The Bears were highly criticized for the signing, but all could be forgotten if McDonald is an impact player for a team searching for its first Super Bowl title in 30 years.

Gregory’s situation is even more intriguing. There’s very little doubt Gregory can become a Pro Bowl caliber player, but the unusually high amount of talented edge pass rushers means teams are suddenly, in a business sense, “price elastic,” on Gregory.

In other words, Gregory’s draft stock has a higher possibility of declining because there are plenty of capable prospects out there to take his place. Just like the business world, competition can swallow up even the best companies.

However, unlike some mistake-prone athletes, Gregory is acknowledging his blunder and facing it head on.

“(Marijuana) could end my career,” Gregory said. “This incident right now is a step toward ending my career. The last thing I want to do is fail another drug test and be out of the league.

“I want it on the record. I want people to understand I know I messed up. I’m owning up to it. I realize it. But at the same time, I’m taking the right steps to get better and to fix it.”

Whether this was an authentic statement from a troubled athlete or an artificial statement made by an apathetic star remains to be seen. It might not be right, but winning games indeed trumps ethics and Randy Gregory should not be the exception to the unwritten rule.