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Panthers talk with Greg Hardy about long-term deal

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DAVID T. FOSTER III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The Panthers have been talking with defensive end Greg Hardy and his representatives about possibly getting a long-term deal done before the start of the season, according to a league source.

Hardy, coming off a breakthrough season in 2012, is set to make $1.35million this season in the final year of his rookie deal.

Drew Rosenhaus, Hardy’s agent, approached Panthers’ officials about a contract extension during the spring. At the time, first-year general manager Dave Gettleman was working to get the Panthers’ salary cap situation under control.

Gettleman inherited a roster that was $16million over the cap when he was hired in January. The Panthers currently are about $12million below the cap.

Through a team spokesman, Gettleman declined comment.

After finishing with seven sacks total over his first two seasons, Hardy had 11 in 2012. He added 23 quarterback pressures and two forced fumbles.

Hardy, 25, a sixth-round pick from Mississippi in 2010, combined with defensive end Charles Johnson for 231/2 sacks last season, the second-highest total by a pass-rushing tandem in team history.

If they fail to reach an agreement on a long-term deal with Hardy, the Panthers could use the franchise tag to keep him. The tag for defensive ends cost teams $11.2million this year.

Johnson received the most lucrative deal in Panthers’ history in 2011 when he agreed to a six-year, $76million extension that included $32million in guaranteed money. But it was a soft free agent market for defensive ends this past offseason, with several pass-rushers settling for shorter contracts.

The Panthers’ biggest contract decision in coming months involves quarterback Cam Newton, who received a relatively modest, four-year $22million deal in 2011 as the first No. 1 pick to sign under the new collective bargaining agreement.

The Panthers, who hold a club option on Newton for a fifth season, cannot begin negotiating with him until after the season.

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