Panthers Defensive End Greg Hardy is not assured of a future beyond this playoff run with the team. However, in Week 16 with the division crown and prime playoff positioning on the line against a hated rival, 76 helped to ensure the team would keep its momentum alive entering the postseason with a monster performance befitting his self-ascribed moniker, "Da Kraken."
His three sacks and incessant presence in the offensive backfield were a key component of a defensive masterpiece which held those guys from the Gulf Coast to 13 points with their lone touchdown coming in the fourth quarter on a jump ball to a 6'7" tight end. It was needed, as the offense was unable to produce much of anything aside from a big run of 43 yards by Deangelo Williams following an interception by Panthers Linebacker Thomas Davis in the second quarter before its epic game-winning drive in the final minute.
Hardy is in the final year of the four-season rookie deal he signed with the team after being named its sixth round pick out of Ole Miss in 2010. Thus far, for a minimal fiscal investment, the team has netted two years as a limited starter and two years of absolute Pro Bowl worthy play. The rate of return has been fantastic, but completely unsustainable and must be addressed.
Before we go any further, it is important to note that Sunday was a bit of a perfect storm (weather pun intended) - a confluence of converging factors to facilitate a breakout performance by Hardy. First and foremost, Mother Nature lended a helping hand by dousing the grass with rain and slowing the opponent's passing attack; but the opposing head coach also made a stunning miscalculation by giving a rookie with zero starting experience the nod to line up on Hardy. It was a provocation of grand proportions, I admit.
Still, in my eyes, this game was a bit of a culmination of the entire first phase of a budding career, of four years of incremental improvement from a guy who couldn't set the edge and was a liability against the run to a penultimate practitioner of his position on the grandest stage.
In many ways, his performance has been a harbinger of the level of play for the entire team, and as the stakes have grown so has his presence.
Of course, this is the reason I am penning a treatise on the absolute necessity of retaining the services of "Da Kraken," and I remain steadfast in saying what has become my mantra concerning this situation: "Pay the man!" His price will do nothing but go up if he hits the market, and I feel Gettleman should be putting it together during the first round bye week in the playoffs (I refuse to entertain the idea we'll lay an egg in Georgia).
We are all aware of Hardy's recent overtures to the team about taking slightly less to stay in black and blue, as well as his rejection of an earlier offer of four years, $32 million. It still bears repeating until it happens, lock up Da Kraken for future generations of bandwagon Carolina fans to marvel at and enjoy the way us diehards have since he first stepped foot on the field!
Now that we're good, it's even more important to think about the naive souls who will wander into what has been my autumn purgatory for some half a decade, and has now become my greatest point of joy in a rather ineffectual existence otherwise.
Lock up Hardy now!!! All other considerations hinge upon the completion of this mission.