IRVING – After the first wave of free agency and some bargain-basement signings, the Dallas Cowboys made a move that should dramatically improve the team in 2015, with the signing of former Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy.
Hardy signed a one-year deal worth up to $13.1 million with bonuses and incentives. His base salary for 2015 is $750,000. He has a workout bonus of $1.3 million. The workout bonus is paid out weekly. The deal includes $9.25 million in per-game roster bonuses and $1.8 million in incentives based on sacks.
There was no signing bonus so there is minimal risk by the Cowboys beyond the base salary.
It can be a big payday if Hardy earns it. Hardy has to be accountable and highly productive to get the bulk of the money.
It’s also a controversial move because of his off-the-field issues. Hardy is on the NFL commissioner’s exempt list because of a 2014 domestic violence charge.
According to police, Hardy assaulted his then-girlfriend and threatened to kill her during an altercation last May. The woman said he choked her with both hands around her throat and threw her onto a couch covered with assault rifles and shotguns. She said Hardy told her all the weapons were loaded.
Hardy was initially convicted of two misdemeanors — assault on a female and communicating threats. He was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list in September after playing in Carolina’s season opener and was deactivated by the team after that.
Hardy was found guilty by a judge last July but appealed the decision, asking for a jury trial.
According to court papers, the alleged victim never made herself available to the Mecklenburg County district attorney’s office to prepare for trial and law enforcement officials were unable to locate her to serve a subpoena.
The prosecution said it had reliable information she had reached a civil settlement with Hardy. The case was eventually dropped because the victim refused to cooperate with authorities after receiving a financial settlement from Hardy.
The NFL is doing it’s own independent investigation and he could face further discipline of a four-to-six game suspension this season and would need to be reinstated to play for the Cowboys. A league spokesman said earlier today that the case remains under review but they will make a decision on Hardy’s status as soon as possible.
The league’s new personal conduct policy, approved by owners after Hardy’s conviction, calls for a six-game suspension for first-time violations involving assault, sexual assault and domestic violence. Previously, first-time offenders typically received two-game suspensions.
The league unsuccessfully petitioned courts to have evidence from Hardy’s first trial unsealed. Without that evidence, it may be difficult for the league to suspend him.
The Cowboys have a history of giving players second chances and have defensive tackle Josh Brent on the roster less than a year after being convicted of vehicular manslaughter in the death of teammate Jerry Brown.
The Cowboys had a history with Brent and knew him well before the incident, allowing them some comfort in granting him a second chance.
According to sources, the Cowboys have done their homework on Hardy and used the two-day visit, which began on Tuesday, to get to know him better, paving the way for Wednesday’s signing.
They seem to have wrapped their arms around any possible further suspension and are comfortable enough with the situation to add him to the team.
Hardy can help the Cowboys, who recorded just 28 sacks last season and badly need pass-rushing help. Their inability to pressure the quarterback was an Achilles heel all season and proved to be their demise in the NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Defensive ends Jeremy Mincey, George Selvie, Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Lawrence combined for 9.5 sacks last season. Mincey had a team-leading six. Lawrence, a 2014 second-round pick, had none during the season, but did pick up two in the playoffs. Selvie (3) and Spencer (0.5) are free agents and are not expected back.
Finding player to affect the quarterback has been one of the team’s primary focal points of the off-season in free agency and the upcoming NFL draft. A high-profile pass rusher like Hardy may also alleviate the pressure to draft a defensive end with the No. 27 pick in next month’s draft. The Cowboys could still use a boost at defensive tackle, and running back and cornerback appear to be positions of need.
The salary cap-smart Cowboys didn’t want to pay market freight for help in free agency, which is why Hardy and his challenging off-the-field situation turned into a opportunity to strike it big without much risk or investment.
Hardy has 34 career sacks, including 26 in 2012 and 2013. He had a league-high 15 sacks in 2013 when he was named All-Pro.
Hardy is a good fit for defensive end Rod Marinelli‘s 4-3 scheme. The disciplined Marinelli, who is a former Marine tunnel rat, is likely a good fit for Hardy as he attempts to resurrect his career.
At 26, Hardy still has a lot of good football left for a successful career if he can get his life in order off the field.