Oct 20, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (76) before the game against the St. Louis Rams at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports.

Greg Hardy Likely Won't be a Panther in 2014

I hate to say it, but someone’s gotta point it out: Greg “The Kraken” Hardy will not be in a Carolina Panthers uniform in 2014.

There. I said it.

Just don’t kill the messenger.

David Gettleman, entering his second year as the General Manager of the Carolina Panthers, has already shown a LOT more restraint than his predecessor, Marty Hurney, and thank GOODNESS for it!

However, he will be hamstrung for another two years as he works through the meat of the “dead money” and guarantees so lavishly heaped upon so many players by Hurney.

In Hurney’s defense, giving big contracts to guys on the team – or “promoting from within” if you will – helps breed loyalty with the players. When they see their teammates getting rewarded with big money for jobs well-done (or even not so well done, as in Charles Godfrey’s case), they know that if they work hard and produce, they have a chance at getting a nice long-term deal without having to pick up and move.

That cannot continue forever, as Hurney and we fans learned the hard way. Big contracts to Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and most recently Mike Tolbert (the only one from free agency of that group) eventually squeeze the salary cap and that’s what Gettleman is dealing with right now.

Dec 15, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert (35) runs the ball during the third quarter against the New York Jets at Bank of America Stadium. Panthers defeated the Jets 30-20. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, those big contracts tie the GM’s hands in later years, whoever that GM might be. We’re seeing the downside to it right now.

With only about $11 million in cap space and hamstrung, Gettleman has a large number of free agents to sort through – 21 of them – on the Panthers’ whole team!

Suddenly, that $11 million doesn’t look like much.

Indeed, the Bleacher Report has it wrong in a way. Yes, the Panthers technically have the sixth-highest amount in “cap space,” but claims they’re actually the 4th-best. Okay, close enough as far as that goes I guess. However, they fail to mention all that “dead money” – namely, in the form of Jonathan Stewart, who counts a whopping $18.125 million in dead cap space!

Godfrey adds another $5 million and if neither had much against the cap, they’d both be elsewhere in 2014 I’m sure….James because of injuries and Godfrey because he’s simply overpaid. It also means the Panthers do NOT have the cap space to retain Greg Hardy, contrary to what the folks at the Bleacher Report may think. The Panthers have to think about future contracts such as Cam’s upcoming and likely $10+ million a year and Luke Kuechly’s upcoming monster contract once he works through his rookie contract in a couple of years. Those are the two “must-haves” on the team by far, and Gettleman is going to keep them both.

In other words, Stewart and Godfrey are costing the Carolina Panthers over $23 million dollars in 2014 and I don’t think anyone on the planet would say that’s a “good deal.”

Thanks, Marty.

Dec 22, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (76) sacks New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) during the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

That figure alone puts re-signing Greg Hardy out of the question. He’s going to want double-digits in millions and a multi-year deal as well…with a fair amount of THAT being guaranteed.

There’s simply no way the organization can afford him, given the money tied up with some of the guys we have now. What that means is we won’t be able to keep the defense’s risen star. He had seven sacks the last two games, when the Panthers HAD to win in order to get lock up that #2 seed in the NFC playoffs. The bad? He vanished in the loss against the Niners….but then again Hardy didn’t lose us the game by thirteen points and San Fran’s offensive scheme is unique.

Hardy is no fool. He knows the chances of him staying in Charlotte are remote at best, and has spent time as a marketing genius of sorts, creating his “Kraken” alter ego along the lines of Ray Lewis doing his “shaky dance” or whatever the heck that thing was. Hardy knows about social media, the internet, and of the Information Age. He’s probably added some value to his next contract simply by being well-known and visible in the way he goes about doing things.

The Panthers already have a pass rusher on par with Hardy – that would be Charles Johnson. However, Johnson is much more quiet about his business and lets Hardy get the attention with his “Kraken” character. Johnson already has his own big contract, thanks to Hurney, and the team simply cannot afford to be paying BOTH starting DEs a ton of cash.

I think $8 million a year is probably Hardy’s _starting_ point in salary contracts in the free agent market, and he’s going to be the most coveted pass rusher in that market this upcoming off-season, bar none. His age (26 this July) is well in his favor as his most productive seasons are very likely ahead of him.

BTW, my friend and ex-Catcrave writer, Joey Riollano, thinks Hardy’s going to end up in Chicago as they themselves dump Julius Peppers and his $18 million salary. Cutler is going to be making $22 million, and losing Peppers’ contract will MAKE room for the younger Hardy, so it would actually be a cost-cutting move for DAAAA BEARSSSS to do while they have the luxury of getting significantly younger without losing effectiveness and, in fact, Hardy should out-produce Peppers on a yearly basis because of his being on the upswing of his career while Peppers’ best days are behind him.

Dec 1, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) is tackled by Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers (90) during the second quarter at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Joey’s no fool and I can’t argue with his logic. Time will tell, but that sounds about as plausible as anything I’ve thought of and I don’t want to take credit for the idea because I’m not the one who came up with it – he did. We’ll see.

I’d like to see Gettleman use some of that money to give safety Mike Mitchell a multi-year deal if it’s a reasonable one.

I’ve talked up Joey so let me talk up myself here at least a little.

Before the 2013 season began, I said that Mike Mitchell would be the “pleasant surprise of the year” for Carolina, and I have to say I was eerily accurate with that one. He led the team in interceptions and can play the run quite well. He’s a very physical safety and the “enforcer” of the secondary. Remember the personal foul penalty on the first play of the Niner’s game? 15 yards, sure, but it was sending a message – we’re here to play, and you’re gonna get hit all day long. It was a psychological ploy; unfortunately, some teams aren’t so easily intimidated but give him credit for trying.

Mitchell’s finally becoming the player Al Davis envisioned him becoming when he overdrafted the gifted but raw Mitchell in the second round the same year he overdrafted Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland. DHB is still fast and all-thumbs. Mitchell has improved and the proverbial light bulb turned on in 2013.

Losing Hardy is tough, yes, but not the horrible thing in the bigger picture. Gettleman himself hinted at something like this some time back when he said “Sometimes you gotta let big dogs walk.”

I’m certain he was NOT referring to Cam Newton, which brings up another issue:

Gettleman has to plan for upcoming “big contracts” while we already have some depth and young talent that can come in and play. DE Mario Addison had some big plays this year, especially towards the end of the season. Don’t forget Frank Alexander, whom the Panthers traded up to draft in 2012 and was the reason why we had no third-round pick in 2013’s draft.

Nov 24, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (left), guard Nate Chandler (center), and defensive end Frank Alexander (right) tackle Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. The Panthers won 20-16. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

So, even in losing Hardy, some of his production (15 sacks) CAN be replaced and I honestly think it’s better for the organization as a whole to begrudgingly let him test the free agent waters, wish him well, and pray he goes to an AFC team that isn’t on the schedule for 2014 and won’t be a contender anytime too soon.

I wouldn’t want him being on the other team especially in any playoff run the Panthers make in 2014. Otherwise, I like the guy, and hope he has many Pro-Bowl seasons coming….wherever he winds up.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

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