2013 was something of a dream season for the Carolina Panthers. After starting the season 1-3, the Panthers reeled off 11 wins in 12 games to stunningly capture the NFC South.
If this offseason has been any indication, the odds of a repeat aren't great, and it's only fitting that a miserable spring and early summer for the Panthers be capped by the failure to get a long-term extension worked out with franchise tag-ee Greg Hardy.
The 25-year-old, who paced the NFL's top pass rush with a career-high 15 sacks in 2013, is set to make $13.1 million this year under the franchise tag, but there was a hope a long-term accord could be reached before Tuesday's deadline.
Now, according to the NFL Network's Albert Breer (via colleague Dan Hanzus) that appears unlikely.
Of course, as Bleacher Report's Aaron Nagler points out, there's something of an "elephant in the room" reason why the Panthers might be uneasy about the idea of handing Hardy a big bag of guaranteed money right now:
Safe to say there won't be a long-term deal done prior RT @josephperson Trial for Greg Hardy on domestic violence charges set for Tuesday— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) July 14, 2014
With players getting suspended left and right, it's understandable the Panthers might want to wait and see how things play out in court before investing a ton of money in Hardy.
The problem is, unless Hardy faceplants or winds up suspended for much of the season (which the Panthers assuredly don't want), the team is now in a very tricky spot come next February.
If Hardy puts up a season anything like 2013, where only Robert Quinn of the St. Louis Rams ranked higher among 4-3 defensive ends at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), that $13 million a season Hardy is getting this year may be the jumping-off point for contract negotiations.
Tagging Hardy a second straight time, on the other hand, would boost his 2015 salary to a gaudy $15.7 million (120 percent of this year's salary).
Oh, and quarterback Cam Newton carries a cap hit of nearly $15 million entering the final year of his rookie deal next year. And with three years of service time, 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly will be eligible for a new contract.
Is 2014 Greg Hardy's last season with the Carolina Panthers?
In other words, general manager Dave Gettleman might want to invest in some bowling pins, because he's going to be doing some serious juggling a year from now.
It's the icing on a rancid cake for the Panthers this year. First the receiving corps was decimated in free agency. Then came ankle surgery for Newton, Hardy's arrest and a 2014 draft that Bucky Brooks of NFL.com ranked among the worst in the league.
Is the sky falling? No, at least not on Hardy's side of the ball. The Carolina front seven enters 2014 intact, much to the chagrin of the other quarterbacks in the division.
However, the Panthers' NFC South rivals in New Orleans are gearing up for another playoff run. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a trendy early playoff pick after a very busy offseason under new head coach Lovie Smith. The Atlanta Falcons are better than last year's 4-12 record.
And the Carolina Panthers are badly in need of some good news as training camp gets underway.
It would be the first good news they've received in quite some time.
Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.