The biggest-name free agent left on the board came off it this week when former Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys. He's a good player, but how many games will the Cowboys have him on the field for?
Talented but Volatile
From a talent perspective alone, you could have made a case that Greg Hardy was the second-best free agent available overall behind Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, whom the Miami Dolphins made the highest-paid defensive player in league history.
In 2013 when the Panthers had the second-best defense in the NFL, a large reason for that was Hardy as he had a career-high 15 sacks along with 59 overall tackles. His plus-25.6 Pro Football Focus grade was second-highest among 4-3 defensive ends, including a pass-rush grade of plus-19.3 that ranked fourth. That led the Panthers to put the franchise tag on Hardy before last season.
The Cowboys should have a very nice defensive front led by Hardy, fellow end Jeremy Mincey (plus-11.1 pass rush) and tackle Tyrone Crawford (plus-17.3 pass rush). The Cowboys had just 28 sacks as a team in 2014. Dallas got Hardy, who is only 26, on a great deal, one year at $11.3 million, with incentives that could increase it to $13 million. None of the money is guaranteed. Hardy got a clause inserted that the team can't use the franchise or transition tag on him next season, making him a free agent again in 2016.
All that is fine and good. It's just that Hardy is looking at a suspension of multiple games from the NFL. He played only one game last season after being arrested on May 13, 2014, and charged with assaulting and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend, Nicole Holder. In July, Hardy was found guilty by a North Carolina judge, but the verdict was set aside because that state has an unusual option of requesting a jury trial even after a judge's verdict. All the charges were dropped Feb. 9 because Holder refused to cooperate with the district attorney's office. Why? Hardy paid her off.
The NFL doesn't care if Hardy was found guilty or not, he's going to face a suspension under the personal conduct policy. He technically wasn't suspended last year but placed on the commissioner exempt list and paid in full. The league is going to drop the hammer on a guy who allegedly beat and threatened a woman in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal. This is why most other teams didn't chase Hardy despite the obvious talent. For example, the Bucs were in the running but pulled out, with GM Jason Licht saying: "At the end of the day, we didn't feel good about it."
Now that Hardy has a team, expect a decision fairly quickly. An NFL spokesman said this week the case remains under review but it will make a decision on Hardy's status ASAP. It wouldn't surprise me if it's at least eight games. I do expect Hardy to be a monster (no pun intended) when he does play as he has the dual motives of letting his play help clear his reputation and the fact he can get a huge multi-year deal on the free-agent market next winter.
What is interesting is that Hardy could get $13 million in salary this year. The Cowboys only offered star running back DeMarco Murray $12 million guaranteed. The NFL rushing leader said no thanks and got $21 million guaranteed from the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles.
Dallas still has to do something at running back to be considered for your NFL Picks. The team has signed former No. 4 overall pick Darren McFadden, formerly of the Raiders, but he can't stay healthy and has averaged 3.4 yards per carry or less the past three years. His 3.34 yards-per-carry average in that span is the second-lowest among qualified players behind Trent Richardson (3.31), who ironically is now in Oakland. Last year was the first time in McFadden's career he played in all 16 games, but he was largely a backup.
McFadden only got $200,000 guaranteed so it's a low-risk move, but clearly the Cowboys aren't done at the position, whether it's acquiring Adrian Peterson or taking a running back high in the draft. Right now their tailbacks other than McFadden are Joseph Randle (not exactly an off-field saint himself), Ryan Williams and Lance Dunbar.
The Cowboys' NFL Odds to win Super Bowl 50 are +1600 compared to +1800 a week ago.