Panthers unsure if Hardy will play vs. Steelers

Carolina Panthers' Greg Hardy smiles at fans as he arrives for an NFL football practice in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014. Hardy has been convicted on two counts of domestic violence and is still playing. Though he has already been found guilty
Chuck Burton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Panthers coach Ron Rivera isn't sure if Greg Hardy will play Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rivera also said Monday that the team hasn't considered releasing the Pro Bowl defensive end who is involved in a domestic violence case. He added that Hardy will continue to practice and attend team meetings, but the coach won't make a decision on when Hardy plays until later this week.

The Panthers plan to continue gathering information in what Rivera said is ''a very fluid situation.''

Hardy was convicted July 15 of assault on a female and communicating threats after the victim claimed he threw her down on a bed of guns and tossed her into the shower. He is appealing the ruling.

Hardy played in Week 1 but Rivera deactivated him just hours before Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions - two days after the coach had said Hardy would play.

Rivera said Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was involved in the Hardy discussion and the team received some input from the league, but it was his decision to bench him.

Hardy made $770,588.23 - one-seventeenth of his yearly pay - despite not playing. Hardy is due to make $13.1 million this year.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman and his staff are ''doing their due diligence in terms of looking at what our options are'' going forward, Rivera said.

The Panthers will have to decide by Week 6 how they want to handle Hardy's situation.

Under the collective bargaining agreement, a team can only deactivate a player for non-injury reasons for a maximum of four games. The same limit applies if the Panthers were to suspend Hardy for conduct detrimental to the team.

Hardy's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, declined to comment on the situation.

On Monday, Hardy arrived at the stadium in his white Bentley shortly after noon wearing white shorts and a hooded white sweatshirt and sunglasses. He didn't acknowledge media questions as he strolled into the stadium.

The decision to deactivate Hardy last Sunday was a difficult one, Rivera said.

''If you play him and you win, then you don't have a conscience; and if you play him and you lose, he's a distraction,'' Rivera said.

Rivera's decision to bench Hardy came after the Minnesota Vikings deactivated Adrian Peterson following his indictment for injuring a child. The Vikings released a statement Monday saying Peterson will play Sunday against New Orleans.

The Panthers are trying to be careful not to be reactionary.

''That is why we have to sit down and talk about these things,'' Rivera said. ''And we did the same thing (on Sunday). We talked about a lot of things and at the end of the day I had to make a decision that I believe was in the best interest of our football team and for Greg.''

Rivera said he allowed Hardy to leave the stadium and return home after notifying him of the move.

''I said, `Greg, are you OK with this?' and he said, `Coach, I understand,''' Rivera said.

Carolina's defense didn't miss a beat without Hardy, forcing three turnovers and getting four sacks in a 24-7 victory.

Hardy, who tied a franchise-record with 15 sacks last season, had four tackles and a sack in the team's regular-season opener at Tampa Bay. However, Hardy's status changed when the Ravens released Ray Rice and the league suspended him indefinitely last week after a video surfaced of Rice punching his then-fiancee.

Later in the week, Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges, adding pressure on the Panthers to deactivate Hardy.

Rivera said Sunday that ''the climate had changed'' in the NFL and that played into his decision to bench Hardy.

When asked if the Panthers got it right the first time, Rivera said, ''I don't know. What is right? You do the best you can and nobody is infallible. We have to get this issue right and we're trying to do the right thing.''

Panthers center and team co-captain Ryan Kalil said Monday he's glad he didn't have Rivera's job the last two weeks.

''I don't envy having to make those tough decisions,'' Kalil said.

Kalil also said he's tired of answering questions about Hardy, but said the best thing he advises younger teammates to do is focus on getting better.

''There are countless guys I can name in this league that are just really good people,'' Kalil said. ''My hope is that at some point we can focus on some of those guys. I know these things are the topic right now, but it's disappointing that it overshadows a lot of good people.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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