As David Irving tells it, even Jason Garrett recommended this route.
Irving flashed his talent across four seasons as a Cowboys defensive lineman, five total seasons in the NFL. He recorded seven sacks – 10 quarterback hits – in eight games in 2017.
He also has received three suspensions from the NFL the last three offseasons for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug and substance-abuse policies. Garrett tired of Irving’s marijuana usage, Irving said.
“He told me I should just quit, smoke all the weed I want, the team didn’t need me,” Irving told USA TODAY Sports in a wide-ranging phone interview Thursday. “I’m a distraction to the team.
“He views marijuana as a drug, whereas I view it as a medicine. It’s not a good situation.”
The Cowboys did not respond Friday to USA TODAY Sports’ request for comment.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Irving said, struck a different tone.
“Basically, Jerry, he is supportive of me,” Irving said, adding Jones didn’t agree with all parts of the league substance-abuse policies. “He understands my situation and what I was dealing with. Our hands were pretty much tied. His hands were tied.”
So Irving, a free agent saddled with an indefinite suspension, made a decision: He would quit the NFL to pursue cannabis-based wellness opportunities.
This month's announcement wasn’t spontaneous.
Irving played just 10 of 34 games for the Cowboys the last two seasons. The Cowboys carried him on their 53-man roster through January though he never suited up after October. Irving was rarely around Cowboys headquarters in 2018, battling issues including injuries and a custody battle. He repeatedly missed mandatory drug tests, he says, that led to the indefinite suspension the league announced March 1.
Garrett was asked about Irving at the NFL scouting combine in late February.
“Obviously, he’s been dealing with some different things over the course of the last year and really was not a part of our team this past year,” Garrett said. “He’s a free agent as we know it and will address specific issues with specific guys as we go.”
Irving said he hasn’t talked to Cowboys staff in an official capacity since December. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has called to check in.
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Rather than quit marijuana and follow league policy, Irving joined an unusual set of free-agency suitors.
He formally agreed to terms with Ghost Beverage this week, marketing manager Patrick Williams told USA TODAY Sports. Ghost Beverage plans to launch two products with Irving: cannabidiol pre-rolls (joints) and cannabidiol vape pens. The company, launched in 2017, already distributes one electrolyte-infused and two cannabidiol-infused beverages in the Los Angeles area and Chicago.
As the executive producer of a new docuseries called “Shut Up and Tackle," Irving will explore CBD and what he sees as a problematic NFL aversion to marijuana.
Irving says players should have the option to pursue medical treatments with cannabis. He believes the mental illnesses he was diagnosed with in therapy – manic depression, borderline schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder, he said – have resulted from concussions at the professional level.
“You can check all my medical records. I wasn’t diagnosed with any of these things before the NFL,” Irving said. “I’ve been in what, four and a half years now?
“It was scary to know I played a sport and am having these concussions and I don’t really know how long I’m going to live. Memory loss, pains, [and] I have these mood swings, bipolar disorder. If you ask me, it’s all related to the concussions.”
And cannabis, Irving believes, will help him treat challenges including anxiety, depression, pain and sleeping disorders.
The mission has convinced Irving that 18 years of organized football is enough. He doesn’t want to follow league terms of his indefinite suspension by giving up marijuana and returning to rehabilitation away from his 7-year-old daughter, Zoe. Irving is a single father and has full custody, he said.
Instead, he hopes to find a different path to productivity and wellness.
“I’m a little excited about it all,” Irving said. “I have so much I could say and so many directions I can go in.”
Where does he plan to start?
“People need to understand I’m not doing this – I didn’t quit football to smoke weed,” Irving said. “That would be idiotic. I understand that.
“It’s about wellness, about rights. People need to understand that.”
Follow Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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