A year ago, the Carolina Panthers used their franchise tag on defensive end Greg Hardy with designs of making him a franchise cornerstone going forward. One lost, controversial season later, Hardy will attempt to reclaim his status among the game's best defensive ends in Dallas.
The Cowboys announced they agreed to terms with Hardy on a one-year deal, concluding one of the more interesting free-agent chases of the offseason.
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson later revealed it was his decision to retain Hardy.
Continue for updates.
Panthers Owner Says It Was His Decision Not to Retain Hardy
Monday, March 23
Richardson commented on Hardy, acknowledging that it was his decision not to try to re-sign him in Carolina, via ESPN.com's David Newton:
"Whose call would you think that would be?'' Richardson told ESPN.com at the NFL owners meetings.
Asked why he made that call, Richardson said, "We do the right things.''
These were Richardson's first comments regarding Hardy since he broke down in tears in September addressing what some critics called the organization's lenient stance against the 2013 Pro Bowl player as it pertained to his domestic violence case.
Cowboys Sign Hardy
Wednesday, March 18
ProFootballTalk first reported the agreement, with ESPN's Adam Schefter providing a breakdown of the financial terms:
According to PFT, Hardy's contract has a "no-franchise/transition clause," and he will be a free agent next offseason.
Hardy commented on joining his new team:
DallasCowboys.com released a statement from owner Jerry Jones, who commented on Hardy's addition to the team:
This agreement involved an important element of our defensive scheme, specifically the pass rush, at a position that we felt we needed to address this off season. We entered this free agency period with the idea of utilizing key resources to help us on the defensive side of the ball.
We have spent a great deal of time over the last two days in meeting with Greg directly and gaining a solid understanding of what he is all about as a person and as a football player. A thorough background review of him, involving many elements of our organization, has been ongoing for the last few weeks.
Obviously a great deal of our study was dedicated to the issue of domestic violence, and the recent events that associated Greg with that issue. We know that Greg’s status remains under review by the National Football League.
Our organization understands the very serious nature of domestic violence in our society and in our league. We know that Greg has a firm understanding of those issues as well.
David Moore of The Dallas Morning News reported that an "NFL spokesman said Greg Hardy's case remains under review and his status will be resolved 'as soon as possible.'"
The Cowboys shared these images of Hardy and welcomed him to Dallas:
While few would question Hardy's on-field talent, his off-the-field problems shrouded his free agency in a cloud of mystery. He played only one game in 2014 after being put on the exempt/commissioner's permission list due to his domestic violence case. Found guilty last July of assaulting and threatening his ex-girlfriend, Hardy appealed the verdict in what turned out to be an oft-delayed case.
"I understand that I need to step away from football right now and take care of this legal matter," Hardy said in a statement. "I am entitled to due process and my day in court, and that's where my focus should be."
Under league rules, the Panthers were still forced to pay Hardy's salary despite his not being with the team. The commissioner's permission list essentially acts as a suspension with pay, as Hardy was not allowed at team facilities for the remainder of the 2014 season. He finished with just four tackles and one sack, a far cry from the 26 quarterback takedowns he put together the previous two campaigns.
Hardy's appeals case was thrown out of court in February when his accuser failed to "[make] herself available to help with the case," according to ESPN.com's David Newton. The league office has not yet indicated whether Hardy will be punished.
While ineligible for the six-game suspension under the NFL's new domestic violence policy, commissioner Roger Goodell could discipline him under the personal conduct policy. Bleacher Report's Jason Cole reported Hardy is expected to be suspended for "one or two games."
Dallas will hope for a return to form now that Hardy's domestic violence case is behind him. He was named a second-team All-Pro and earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 2013, setting a career high with 15 sacks while spearheading a dominant Carolina defense.
Pro Football Focus ranked him the fourth most effective pass-rusher among 4-3 defensive ends that year. Given his equally stellar play against the run, one could argue that Hardy was the NFL's best defensive lineman in 2013.
All of that was secondary during this free-agent process, however. Teams and the NFL as a whole became far more aware of the public backlash associated with domestic violence last season. Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Hardy and others created scenarios in which teams have to juxtapose a player's on-field worth against possibly alienating fans.
Joel Corry, a former NFL agent, told Joseph Person of The Charlotte Observer that Hardy would be a "litmus test" for the league:
Hardy’s going to get more of the benefit of the doubt just because he’s a Pro Bowl-caliber player in his prime. So that’s going to tip the scales for some owners that (think), I know you’ve got issues, but this guy can really play. If he couldn’t really play, he might be out of the league.
With what amounts to a full year away from football—and thus away from the training and other amenities of an NFL locker room—the spotlight will be equally bright for Hardy on and off the field.
In every sense of the word, his new contract is a chance to prove that he is still one of the NFL's best defensive ends and that he can stay out of trouble off the field. He also needs to prove the public outcry this contract will bring winds up paying dividends in December and January.
At the very least, it bears watching how this unfolds.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.