2014 NFL free agency: Greg Hardy or Hakeem Nicks for Panthers?

Elsa

A mid-week hypothetical addresses two of the team's needs, but the dollars to only do one.

The New York Giants rewarded Victor Cruz with a long-term deal yesterday, keeping the talented receiver in the Meadowlands for at least another five years. This raised questions about Hakeem Nicks' future In the wake of the signing, after all the Giants are unlikely to sink big money into a second wide receiver, and they've made their decision. Carolina are in an inexorably similar position. They too have a decision to make this year about Greg Hardy, and whether paying two elite defensive ends is the best use of their funds.

Lets dig deep and debate both sides of whether the Carolina Panthers should do everything in their power to retain their break out defensive end, or whether it better serves the future of the organization to try and acquire Nicks, finding another pass rusher though the draft, or by coaching one up.

The case for Greg Hardy

Foolishness causes a team to jettison a player right when the light bulb comes on. Up to 2012 Hardy played like a 6th round defensive end should. There were some flashes, but overall he lacked the polish needed to be an every-down force as a pass rusher. Now that he's realized his ability it would be a terrible idea to drop him now.

Ron Rivera decided to take a rough diamond and personally work on him. Emphasizing the need to let bad plays go, he made it his mission to get Hardy to understand his own potential, and harness it. Despite the lack of help on the interior defensive line, Hardy still managed to finish with 11.0 sacks and a career-high 61 tackles in 2012.

He's only 24-years old, and that's often overlooked. There's little wear-and-tear, and a new 5-year deal would keep Hardy on the team during the apex of his career. The teams who are competing each year have something in common: They all have excellent pass rushers, and the Panthers can't afford to take a step back right when that facet of the defense is strong.

Furthermore, you don't take this risk when the gamble is on an oft-injured wide receiver. Nicks is entering his 5th year, and he's never managed to play a full 16-game season. He's a great receiver, when he's on the field, but the Panthers have been plagued by inconsistency because of injuries. They need to find a way to be more creative at their receiver spot.

+ The Panthers retain and elite pass rush

+ Hardy's only now coming into his own

+ Two ten-sack defensive ends is the key to stopping NFC South quarterbacks

- No guarantee his 2012 performance will stick

- Can Hardy's personality jive with a huge contract?

The case for Hakeem Nicks

Dave Gettleman is still trying to clear up the salary cap mess that way left for him by his predecessor. A mess that was fueled by making moves exactly like retaining Hardy would be -- committing too much money to one position.

Having the league's best running backs or linebackers is a nice luxury, and a point of pride -- but it hasn't helped on Sundays. The result of these big re-signings has been to top-load the roster in strange places, while leaving others woefully deficient.

If Greg Hardy leaves, the Panthers still have one elite end, an unknown waiting in the wings, and two defensive tackles to sure up the ship. If Steve Smith retires the Panthers have an excellent tight end, and not much else.

Conventional wisdom argues that Carolina should draft a receiver instead, but the chance of landing a 1,000 yard guy in the draft is slim. Concurrently, it's far easier to find a defensive end, and that's not accounting for Frank Alexander who can contribute.

Throwing more money at DE and leaving WR for the draft is the epitome of Hurney management, so why are we so quick to get back there? The focus is, and should be supporting Cam Newton -- and a 1,000 yard receiver would do that. Sure he's had some minor injuries, but 2013 is the litmus test for whether Nicks can stay healthy. He's only 25-years old, and would also remain in his prime for the duration of a 5-year deal.

+ Cam Newton finally gets the weapons he needs

+ Adding a potential no.1 receiver to the team for when Steve Smith retires

- Injury history is a concern

- Adding Nicks makes it difficult to decide whether to retain Brandon LaFell

Alright Panthers fans. It's time to sound off. Assume Hardy has a 10.0 sack season in 2013, and Nicks rebounds with a 1,000 yard receiving season. Who do you give a 5-year deal to, and why?

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