NFL free agency: Is Greg Hardy worth the money?

Kevin C. Cox

It's obvious that Greg Hardy is going to get paid in free agency, but one article shows he may not be worth it.

The name "Julius Peppers" elicits a strong reaction from Panthers fans. At one point he was the team's crown jewel, the most gifted pass rusher in the league who used an array of moves and unmatched athleticism to generate sacks. His problem was being a volume defensive end who gained the majority of his sacks against poor competition, and it seems Greg Hardy suffers from the same issue.

Deciding to pay a defensive end elite money is a gamble. A general manager is banking on that player to become a defensive anchor, keep up high production and importantly -- handle elite opposing offensive tackles. Colin Hoggard and Danny Guy of CBS Charlotte dug deeper into Hardy's season, and there are some alarming results.

1. Can Hardy be a defensive anchor?

This is where we hit the good news portion of the analysis, because Hardy was great all over the field. He worked well against tackles, shifted inside to under tackle when required and was a volume tackler.

That doesn't mean it's all roses. Hoggard and Guy point out that while statistics show a big season it's concerning to look at Hardy as a run stopper, he managed just four solo tackles for loss minus sacks. That's just one more solo tackle for loss than A.J. Klein had in 2013.

2. Keep up high production

There's simply no way of knowing how Hardy will respond when he has a long-term contract in hand and gets more attention from offensive coordinators. That's not saying he'll flame out, but he has an established history of struggling when on the field and Charles Johnson is off it.

Johnson commands a huge amount of attention, opening up opportunities for the rest of the defensive line. This is where he's worth his huge contract -- especially when paired with his production at the position. Johnson is a multi-faceted DE in the traditional sense, it's unclear if Hardy is too.

3. Handling elite offensive tackles

Here's where everything starts to break down and begins resembling Julius Peppers. The former Panthers pass rusher made a career out of dominating lesser competition and failing to make an impact against elite talent and the song remained the same for Hardy.

Only two of Hardy's sacks came against elite talent, according to the CBS article. 10 were against struggling and mediocre blockers, while the final two game against Tony Gonzalez -- a talented but poor blocking tight end.

Star-divide

Forget ideas of "Five years, $40 million" because someone is going to pay Hardy, and handsomely. Whoever does will be taking a risk that these statistics aren't indicative of his ability to be a full time pass rusher.

I'm not sold on the idea of a tag and trade, even though that's the ideal. It requires a mixture of impatience and front office foolishness to send picks for a player they can bid on a year later. That rarely happens, very rarely -- and it's hard to find an elite team close enough to a title that they would spend picks, but also lacking at defensive end.

A franchise tag remains the most likely scenario. It buys a year when money will be easier to come by and allows another season for evaluation, to determine if he's elite.

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