In signing Greg Hardy, Dallas is no doubt taking a risk, but it has protected itself.
Greg Hardy is off the market.
On Wednesday the 26-year-old former Panthers defensive end signed a one-year, incentive-laden deal with the Cowboys that reportedly could be worth more than $13 million.
Talent has never been a question for Hardy. Since Carolina took him in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, he has tallied 34 sacks, capturing the Panthers' franchise record with 15 in '13. With Hardy wreaking havoc in the backfield, Carolina finished the '13 season first in the NFL in sacks and second in points allowed, respectively.
But in the summer of 2014 Hardy was charged with assault on a female and with communicating threats. The details of the alleged altercation are chilling. While charges were eventually dismissed (the accuser failed to testify), Hardy was placed on the commissioner's exempt list after just one game in '14; he remains there and is subject to further punishment, in the form of a suspension or fines.
Dallas is undoubtedly taking a risk in signing him. But the team has protected itself by giving him what amounts to a one-year, prove-it deal. While Hardy can earn more than $13 million, his base salary is only $745,000 with the rest coming in a workout bonus, per-game roster bonuses and incentives. The Cowboys cannot franchise tag Hardy, so given the cash incentives and the prospect of free agency in 2016, he should certainly enter this season with plenty of motivation.
On the field, Hardy is a great fit with the Cowboys. Dallas's D looked resurgent last year in its first season under coordinator Rod Marinelli, but finished 28th in the league in sacks. Part of that could be a result of Marinelli's aversion to blitzing, but it was clear the Cowboys needed to add talent along the edge. Hardy will give the team the freedom to create pressure with the front four.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones released the following statement about the signing:
"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.
"Greg is a proven and experienced player whose production has allowed him to play at a Pro Bowl level. This is a one-year agreement that is incentive based and heavily weighted toward his participation in games.
"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."
From a purely football perspective, this is a solid deal for the Cowboys. Hardy is young and motivated and fills a major area of need. If he flames out, Dallas can cut bait with little consequence; if he posts another 15-sack season, it will cruise to the top of the NFC East and Hardy will make essentially what he made playing under the franchise tag in Carolina in 2014. The downside for the Cowboys is that Hardy is bound to bolt town if he has a great year. However, that's a concession the team likely had to make to get Hardy to sign such an incentive-laden contract.
The p.r. fallout is what knocks this grade down. Following a season that centered on the issue of domestic violence, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson are still floating in the wind, while Hardy is now signed. Hardy's charges were dismissed (as were the charges for Rice and Peterson), but a previous judge convicted him of the crime and the court of public opinion has clearly passed judgment. As PFT's Darin Gantt noted, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones called domestic abuse "intolerable" just six months ago. Has his opinion now changed? This signing will help Dallas on the field, but it could be a hard sell to fans.