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Randy Gregory had 14 million reasons to hold firm in his position with the Cowboys

DE Randy Gregory will reportedly move on to the Broncos after five seasons in Dallas because of a policy on fines that the Cowboys wouldn't compromise on.

Much has been said, and much will be said, by reporters and fans regarding the events that led to defensive end Randy Gregory leaving the Cowboys for the Broncos. In assessing why he cared about the language in the Dallas contract, it’s important to understand how the language could have affected Gregory.

His contract with the Broncos includes $28 million in full guarantees. Of that amount, $14 million will be paid this year, and the remaining $14 million will be paid next year.

The $14 million guarantee in 2023 comes in the form of base salary. Thus, if Gregory were to engage in conduct that would void his guarantees, he could be released before the start of the 2023 regular season, and the entire amount would be avoided.

In Denver, that opportunity arises only if Gregory is suspended. In Dallas, Gregory’s $14 million would have been put at risk for merely a fine under the substance-abuse policy. Given his history of substance-abuse suspensions, Gregory and his agent decided not to hinge $14 million on the possibility of a fine between now and September 2023.

If Gregory had signed with the Cowboys, if he’d gotten fined under the substance-abuse policy in 2022 or most of 2023, and if the Cowboys had decided at any point before Week One of the 2023 season that Gregory’s anticipated performance no longer justifies the money he’s due to make in 2023, they could have ripped up the deal and avoided every penny of the $14 million.

Decisions like that are made all the time. For plenty of players, guaranteed salaries save them from getting cut. If, for example, Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s $12.4 salary for 2022 weren’t fully guaranteed, he would have been released by now.

That’s why Gregory and his agent took a hard line. In Denver, a fine under the substance-abuse policy will not affect his 2023 guarantees. The Cowboys wouldn’t agree to that approach.

The Cowboys are pushing to reporters the idea that this is “standard” language in their contracts. And, with the exception of the Dak Prescott contract, it very well may be. Teams that take these hard-line, this-is-how-we-do-it approaches risk losing players to teams that don’t insist on doing business that way.

And if the Cowboys are upset about that, they only have themselves to blame.