Just as news of the salary cap going up had some of the top free agents — and fans wanting their teams to add more top talent — getting excited, reality has started to set in.
Hardy will receive the dreaded franchise tag from the Carolina Panthers, which will severely restrict his chance to land a big, free-agent deal elsewhere. That said, the Panthers almost certainly will want to keep Hardy in tow and will try their best to sign him to a long-term deal, with the tag giving them a little more time to negotiate — even with their limited cap space.
If they can't sign Hardy long term, the one-year tender figure for defensive ends is projected to fall between $12.4 million and $12.6 million.
Hardy, 25, is coming off his finest season to date, with 15 sacks in 2013, one year after an 11-sack campaign. The 6-4, 290-pound Hardy was a sixth-round pick out of Ole Miss in 2010 and clearly has earned a big raise. His fellow end, Charles Johnson, is scheduled to make more than $16 million in a deal green-lit by former GM Marty Hurney.
With new GM Dave Gettleman running the show now, the team has protected its best asset. The Panthers have cleared cap space on multiple fronts in recent weeks and appear to have the room to sign Hardy long term, even if a few more moves are coming to help do that.
The colorful Hardy has been making the media rounds since the Super Bowl, no doubt in an attempt to raise his profile — and perhaps his price. But Hardy previously has said that he'd be willing to offer the Panthers a hometown discount, provided their offer was at least in line with what other NFL teams might be willing to pay him.
At the very least, he has a hefty tender offer on the table, but there's little doubt he'll be holding out for the big (guaranteed) money for a long-term deal.
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