Hardy broke out in 2013 with 15.0 sacks en route to a Pro Bowl appearance and being named second team All Pro. His future with the team was the Panthers No. 1 priority entering the offseason and it's likely the team will work with agent Drew Rosenhaus on a long term deal that will be more salary cap friendly.
Salary cap concerns are real. The issue was never whether the Panthers could retain Hardy with a franchise tag, but if they should. If Carolina is unable to trade Hardy or sign him to a long term deal his one-year contract will consume over half of the team's available money. Last year a defensive end franchise tag cost $11.2 million, which will likely rise in 2014.
This is a huge domino to fall and has mammoth ramifications for the team's ability to retain other priority free agents. Over 20 players remain without contracts from the 2013 team, including several starters. In real terms the Panthers can't afford to put together a competitive team with less than $10 million, but we've seen in the past that Dave Gettleman has found ways to free up space and find short-term options.
It's exciting to know Hardy is back in the fold, but also very scary.