While it’s barely 24 hours after Greg Hardy’s arrest on domestic violence charges — which include allegations of a large stash of guns in his apartment — it’s becoming clear the Panthers are in a tough spot from a football standpoint.
The defensive end signed his franchise tender shortly after it was given, guaranteeing his $13.1 million salary for the coming season.
That alone makes it unlikely they’d simply cut him, since that would drag their salary cap down like an anchor (such that it doesn’t already, with him and Charles Johnson chewing up more than 20 percent of their cap).
The Panthers would be get a credit back against the cap if he were suspended by the league for a number of games, and as history has shown, it doesn’t take a conviction to bring a punishment under the league’s conduct policy. And they could argue that a conviction would be a default of the contract, and try to get the money back, but that would be months down the road.
Another option — and again, it’s very early in this process — would be a trade.
Drafting Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy in the second round last week, when he wasn’t as big of a need, gives them the flexibility to move Hardy if need be. Owner Jerry Richardson traditionally takes a dim view of any charges involving violence toward women, so it can’t be ruled out at this point. Former second-round tackle Chris Terry was released after he failed to appear in court following an arrest for a domestic dispute with his wife in 2002.
A trade comes with plenty of hurdles too. Since Hardy’s hefty cap charge would transfer to another team, you’d think any deal would also be contingent on some degree of contract extension. And as tough as trading for an accused committer of domestic violence would be, giving him a contract extension would be a hard sell to that team’s fan base.
But it’s also a pragmatic league, and it’s hard to imagine there’s not a team willing to part with a future pick for a guy with 26.0 sacks the last two seasons.
There are 10 teams with enough cap space to do a deal immediately, but nothing about this case indicates a resolution is coming soon.
At the moment, the process will roll on, through the court system and the NFL’s own review, and the Panthers are forced to wait and wonder how much they’ll actually get from their franchise player this year.