Greg Hardy has done everything right in 2013, on the field and off it. Now the time is looming to discuss a contract extension, which will shape the team moving forward.
Hardy told Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer he would take a small pay cut to remain in Charlotte, but "small" is the operative word.
"I'll take some cut for the city. I still want what I deserve or what I feel (is) close to what I deserve," Hardy said. "But I'll definitely take a small cut for the city."
This season has been a master stroke by the defensive end to remain productive on the field (8.0 sacks), while further ingratiating himself to fans not only in the Carolinas, but around the league. Giving the defensive line a nickname, embracing his "Kraken" persona and claiming Hogwarts as his Alma Mater all achieve a dual-purpose, whether intentional or not. It increases his visibility around the league, why making him a fan-favorite; two indispensable characteristics that will be brought up at negotiation time.
Hardy has been on a low-cost late-round rookie contract since the Panthers found a gem in the sixth-round of the 2010 draft. Now he's poised to get one of the largest pay raises in team history.
"I ain't going to put no number on it. I just know I've been here for close to minimum for a long time," said Hardy, a sixth-round pick from Mississippi in 2010. "The one thing that holds consistent is - there's always going to be ups and downs in deals - but good players are going to get paid. Or good players with good agents."
The fourth-year player is dead on, good players with good agents get paid and he has one of the best in Drew Rosenhaus. It's nice to get the warm and fuzzies about Hardy offering to take a cut to stay in Carolina, but there's a tipping point. Simply put: Rosenhaus will not allow him to accept a deal vastly under his market value, because to do so would be irresponsible.
The Panthers and Rosenhaus are familar bedfellows. Multiple contracts have been hammered out over the past few years, most notably Charles Johnson, Jon Beason and Greg Olsen -- all of whom are under his umbrella. The star-agent's reputation precedes him as a gifted negotiator skilled at maximizing money for his clients. That said, he's never worked directly with Dave Gettleman before, making these discussions a complete unknown.
This is where the water gets murky. Judging from recent roster moves and his football ideology it's hard to imagine Gettleman being comfortably placed over a barrel. The 2013 season has focused on trimming the team's fat to correct the ledger, and it's hard to imagine dashing a year's worth of work in order to retain one player -- even one of Hardy's considerable talent.
In March of 2013 the Cleveland Browns signed rotational pass rusher Paul Kruger to a five-year contract worth $40.5 million. It was a reward for a breakout season where the linebacker amassed 9.0 sacks in 15 games. Enter Hardy, who is younger, more talented, has a better established resume and has versatility that Kruger doesn't.
Given that Hardy is only 25-years old and has totaled 20.0 sacks over the last two years it's wholly possible a six-year, $70 million deal isn't out of the question. If that's the case and he offers the Panthers a "small cut" it's likely it will still be a multi-year deal worth over $60 million.
The ball is now in Gettleman's hands. It will be the hardest decision to make of his short tenure, made more complicated by Mario Addison, Wes Horton and Frank Alexander -- all of whom has shown fleeting flashes in 2013. Hardy is a fan-favorite angling for a huge deal. This offseason is going to be one to remember.