After weeks of inactivity at Valley Ranch due to offseason vacation breaks … there is news to report today.
The NFL announced that Greg Hardy‘s suspension was reduced from 10 games to four games this afternoon.
The announcement comes after a seven-week wait for the Pro Bowl defensive end, who appealed the ruling in late May.
Independent arbitrator Harold Henderson heard the appeal and ruled for upholding the suspension — albeit in reduced fashion.
“I find that the conduct of Hardy clearly violates the letter and spirit of any version of the (personal conduct policy) since its inception, and of the NFL Constitution and Bylaws long before then. The egregious conduct exhibited here is indefensible in the NFL,” Henderson said in a statement. “However, ten games is simply too much, in my view, of an increase over prior cases without notice such as was done last year, when the ‘baseline’ for discipline in domestic violence or sexual assault cases was announced as a six-game suspension.”
Under the original suspension, Hardy wouldn’t have been able to play until the Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game against Carolina. After the reduction, Hardy will be available to play Week 5 against the New England Patriots.
It’s possible Hardy could decide to continue to fight the sentence, taking the matter to court — but that has yet to be determined.
Hardy’s agent Drew Rosenhaus, the NFL Players Association and Greg Hardy’s lawyer will consider their options before deciding how to proceed and whether to accept the reduction. Hardy has the option of fighting to further reduce his discipline in federal court.
“I will confer with Greg, the NFLPA and his lawyers to discuss our next move,” Rosenhaus said. “Still considering further legal action.”
Hardy’s initial suspension came following a two-month investigation by the league into Hardy’s domestic violence incident last year involving ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder. Hardy was convicted of the charges in a bench trial, but the legal case in North Carolina state court was dismissed in February when Holder refused to cooperate. The league found sufficient credible evidence that Hardy engaged in conduct that violated NFL policies.
The Cowboys signed Hardy to an incentive-laden one-year deal in March that protected the team in the event of a lengthy suspension. More than $11 million of the $13.1 million maximum comes in the form of per-game roster and workout bonuses.
“We are looking forward to the start of the season and having Greg be a part of the team,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement today (Friday).
Hardy missed all but one game with the Panthers last season after being placed on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List.
If Hardy chooses to accept Henderson’s ruling, he will have missed 19 regular-season games as a result of his legal issues. Hardy continued to get paid while on the exempt list, however, he will not receive a pay check for any games missed with the Dallas Cowboys.
The Dallas Cowboys defense will get a lot better after Week 4. Both Hardy and middle linebacker Rolando McClain — suspended for violation of the league’s policy on substances abuse — are eligible to return to the lineup against the New England Patriots.
LINEBACKER SIDELINED: Defender Rolando McClain suspended for second offense
IRVING, Texas – Rolando McClain has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
This is McClain’s second problem with failed drug tests during 2015, as he was faced with a four-game fine for a failed test back in February. At the time of that report, McClain faced a four-game suspension if he failed another test – which appears to be what has happened.
McClain will be eligible to participate in training camp practices and all preseason games, but he will be unavailable starting Sept. 5 and running through the Dallas Cowboys week 4 game against New Orleans. He can return to the team Oct. 5; his first game of eligibility would be the week 5 contest against Tom Brady’s New England Patriots.
The suspension goes a long way toward explaining the team-friendly free agent deal McClain signed back in April. The six-year veteran signed a one-year contract worth roughly $3 million, but much of that comes in the way of incentives.
McClain’s base salary for 2015 is only $750,000, with a healthy portion of the deal being tied up in per-game bonuses. He’s scheduled to make $93,750 for each week he is on the 46-man game day roster – so the four-game suspension cost him about $375,000.
The veteran linebacker is also in line for $250,000 if he places 60 percent of the Dallas Cowboys defensive snaps, $500,000 if he ups that percentage to 70 and $750,000 if he plays 75 percent. If McClain plays 75 percent of snaps and Dallas makes the playoffs, the pay day increases to $1 million.
McClain struggled with various injuries throughout last season, though it didn’t prevent him from making 81 tackles in 13 games.
The Dallas Cowboys signed veteran free agent Jasper Brinkley to provide depth at middle linebacker this offseason, and second-year veteran Anthony Hitchens also has experience at the position. It seems likely the Cowboys would turn toward one of those two with McClain unavailable.
McClain had already been one of the hot topics of this offseason, as he missed the team’s OTAs while recovering from knee surgery at his home in Alabama. He suffered the injury last season, but surgery hadn’t been seen as necessary up until the Cowboys had begun their offseason program. He returned to the team for its mandatory minicamp from June 16-18, but he did not participate in practices.
ANALYSIS: Dallas Cowboys could have NFL’s most intriguing defense
Pending any further legal jockeying, the Dallas Cowboys will have premier pass rusher Greg Hardy for 75 percent of the 2015 season.
By most accounts, this makes Jerry Jones the owner of the most intriguing defense in football.
He already garnered attention, but with Hardy not projected in their lineup until Week 11, there was doubt as to how effective Hardy might be right away. Getting into game shape and learning how to play in a defense already well in motion is quite difficult. Now, he could be in his prime as early as Week 6. So could rookie pass rusher Randy Gregory.
Before a season-long suspension took place in 2014, Hardy was coming off two consecutive years of 11 sacks or more. His 2013 total of 15 boosted him to another stratosphere of edge rushers that would have placed him atop the market had he not run into the legal problems that marred most of his 2014.
To place his potential impact into perspective, the Dallas Cowboys were one play away from possibly competing in the NFC Championship game despite finishing the regular season with a dismal 28 sacks, good for 28th-best in the NFL. Their individual leader was Jeremy Mincey, who finished the season with six. Jones knows how to strengthen a strength, like he did after the signing of offensive lineman La’El Collins this offseason, but he also knows how to fix a weakness.
Now, the challenge falls on the shoulders of Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who will have to incorporate Hardy, prepare the dynamic Gregory and ease in defensive captain Sean Lee, who is returning from a torn ACL. Lee is also switching full time to a weakside linebacker spot.
Then, there is the matter of maximizing defensive end Demarcus Lawrence and defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford, a player that many believes will ‘Make The Leap’ this season.
This could all turn out to be an incredible stroke of luck for an owner that smells a Lombardi Trophy. Note how Jones’ moves this offseason leave no room for interpretation. Either way, there’s no doubt that all eyes will be on the 2015-2016 Dallas Cowboys, and Jones wouldn’t have it any other way.