Time remains for the Panthers to lock up defensive end Greg Hardy long-term or place the franchise tag on him, but the longer this drags out the more likely the two sides with part ways. Carolina is a better team with him on it, but there are a few players to watch outside the draft who could mitigate the loss.
Hardy's production in 2013 was peerless, but there's plenty of belief he was a benefactor of a strong team and scheme around him. It's a similar situation as Ray Edwards, who was an excellent secondary defensive end until he was taken away from Jared Allen and fell off the face of the earth. Hardy is better, there's no doubting -- but that's the cautionary tale teams will be looking to avoid.
Finding a replacement will be a job in the draft, but here are two players to hang your hat on if Carolina lose the talented rusher.
The arrival of Addison has been a revelation and he could be the key in ensuring the defense stays afloat. He tends to struggle against the run, but that's okay given how good he is at rushing the passer. It wasn't long ago that Hardy was one of the worst run defenders in the NFL and turned that part of his game around.
In 187 pass rush snaps Addison totaled 28 pressures. Give him the same number of snaps as Greg Hardy and he generates an identical 83 pressures. That is very impressive and shows that if he can keep up this performance the Panthers have a competitive option.
It was always going to take a few years to polish the edges and turn Alexander into an NFL pass rusher, that's why he was available in the fourth round. He didn't see a lot of snaps in 2013, but there are a few things to be pleased with.
In 145 pass rush snaps he generated two sacks and 11 quarterback hurries. Alexander finished with a negative grade in pass rushing from Pro Football Focus, but many of these opportunities came as a third down pass rusher when Charles Johnson was off the field. That's not a great position for him to win, especially when Hardy was inside playing under tackle.
Hardy generated a total of 83 pressures in 560 snaps, extrapolate out Alexander's season and he would have had 50 pressures. Not the same production, but nothing to sneeze at.
Trying to grab a defensive end early in the draft seems like a knee-jerk rush to try and fill a gap (should Hardy leave). There are two promising your pass rushers who showed more than flashes in 2013 who can develop, which would allow a later-round selection as a mitigating pick.