I know, I have said many a time that the Panthers already have a bunch of good players in their defensive front seven and that keeping Hardy would be overkill: that they need to focus on improving other areas on their team. While some of that is indeed true, I forgot a few things.
1. Greg Hardy is 6'4" 290 pounds!! The guy is big enough to play DT, and actually is moved inside on passing downs.
2. Charles Johnson is 6'2" 285 lbs. Basically, the Panthers are the only 4-3 team in the NFL with two dominant full-sized pass rushing DEs. Normally a big DE is plays the run-stopper role, and the pass-rushing DEs are 240-270 lbs, basically glorified OLBs who are liabilities against the run and can't move inside. The Panthers have TWO guys like that and NEED to keep them together.
3. I have stated that the Panthers will have to pay Kuechly, Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short one day so let Hardy walk now. Sorry. First let Kuechly, Star and Short get to Hardy's level. If any of them don't, cut them loose and keep Hardy. Only if all 3 of their reaching Hardy's level occurs does releasing Hardy become a good idea. So, my notion of releasing Hardy because of the young guys' potential (and it is ridiculous that as Hardy is all of 25 he is not considered a young guy also, Hardy is the same age as Ryan Tannehill and is only a year older than Lotulelei) is ridiculous. Hardy is a young Pro Bowl player NOW so let's keep him.
4. I stated that getting better play in the secondary would mean not needing 2 dominant DEs. I totally forgot that getting better play in the secondary would make Hardy that much better also. Basically, I was being a total idiot.
5. I was concerned about the salary cap. But the priority in the salary cap is keeping as many young Pro Bowl caliber players at critical positions together as possible. You DO NOT release young Pro Bowl caliber players to get under the cap. You release big money aging veterans and you release big money players at less vital positions to create room for the young Pro Bowl caliber difference makers.
6. The Panthers and Hardy really aren't that far apart. The Panthers offered - and Hardy rejected - a 4 year $32 million dollar deal. James Dator suggests that Hardy would probably take a $6 year $60 million deal. If that is the case, then the per year difference is only $2 million a year. Even better: because the contract is longer, that is 2 more years to spread the salary cap over. So $6 years, $60 million would cost the same in the initial years of the deal as $4 years, $32 million would. It would cost more later, but by that time the salary cap will have increased and the Panthers - for example - will no longer have Double Trouble eating up 1/4 of the salary cap.
The problem: I do not believe that it would be a 6 year, $60 million deal. Instead, it would far more likely be a 6 year, $72 million deal for a 24 year old 290 lb. pass-rushing DE. So instead of going from $8 million a year to $10 million a year, it would be form $8 million a year to $12 million a year. That would be a lot harder to swing. But it could be done if the Panthers make some tough decisions, such as releasing a popular veteran or deferring Cam Newton's new deal until the Panthers are able to release one of the RBs (for example).
But the Panthers HAVE to get it done. Especially since the likely free agent destination for Hardy would be THE ATLANTA FALCONS, who haven't had a reliable pass rush in years. So the Falcons could use Hardy to be one of their missing pieces, weaken the Panthers at the same time AND use Hardy to beat the Panthers twice a year. I am sorry BUT IT CANNOT HAPPEN.
Keeping Hardy is more important than picking up WRs and CBs in free agency. So that has to be done. Offseason strategy:
1. Sign Hardy.
2. Get a cheap RT in free agency.
3. Use the first round draft pick on a WR. Use a second round draft pick on a CB. Third round pick on a developmental OT. (Actually a 3rd round OT might be able to beat out Byron Bell as a rookie). 4th round pick on a TE that can catch.
Make it happen, Gettleman!