At Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline for getting a long-term deal done with the Carolina Panthers, Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy was instead in a courtroom listening to his ex-girlfriend tell a judge how he beat her up during an early-morning altercation in May.
By the end of the 10-hour trial Tuesday, Hardy had been convicted on charges of communicating threats and assaulting a female. The guilty verdict – and the unseemly testimony involving Hardy that came out in court – further clouded Hardy’s short- and long-term future with the club.
During Hardy’s testimony at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, Hardy’s attorney Chris Fialko asked him if he’d be playing with the Panthers this season.
“Yes sir,” Hardy said. “Hopefully.”
Minutes after District Judge Becky Thorne Tin announced the verdict, Fialko appealed for a jury trial. Under North Carolina law, those convicted of a misdemeanor have the right to a second trial in Superior Court in front of a jury.
A jury trial for Hardy likely would not begin until after the 2014 season. That timetable could allow Hardy to avoid immediate punishment from the NFL, which could choose to suspend Hardy for as many as four games based on recent disciplinary actions.
The Panthers would not comment on Hardy’s status on Wednesday. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, also declined comment.
League spokesman Brian McCarthy said Wednesday the NFL would review Hardy’s legal situation under the personal conduct policy at the “appropriate time.”
The league generally does not discipline first-time offenders until their legal cases have been resolved. But the NFL can suspend first-time offenders under “egregious circumstances,” or if it believes a player is a threat to cause “significant bodily harm or risk to third parties.”
During Tuesday’s testimony, Nicole Holder said Hardy threw her around his apartment, strangled her and threatened to kill her during a fight at his uptown residence May 13.
Witnesses testified Hardy had guns strewn around his condo that night, with four or five on a futon, several atop a bar and others propped up against a window.
The pace and severity of the NFL’s disciplinary process varies.
The Minnesota Vikings cut cornerback A.J. Jefferson in November the same day he was arrested on a domestic assault charge. Less than a week later, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Jefferson for four games.
Meanwhile, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice is still waiting to hear from Goodell on his punishment five months after his February arrest for knocking out his then-fiancee (now wife) at an Atlantic City casino.
Rice was accepted into a diversion program in May and met with Goodell in June.
The Panthers could take action against Hardy before the NFL’s decision.
The Panthers released offensive tackle Chris Terry in 2002 after the former second-round pick failed to appear in court after his arrest following a domestic dispute with his wife.
Owner Jerry Richardson and general manager Dave Gettleman could suspend Hardy or even cut him, but they would do so at a significant cost.
In March, the Panthers used the franchise tag on Hardy, whose one-year contract is worth $13.1 million – all of it guaranteed. If they release Hardy, they would have $13.1 million counting against the cap.
The Panthers could recoup a portion of the money for any games Hardy misses due to suspension.
But they would be cutting ties with a pass-rush specialist who made his first Pro Bowl in 2013 and tied Kevin Greene’s single-season, team record with 15 sacks.
The Panthers’ front office personnel returned to work this week, although coaches will not be back until next week. A team spokesman said Tuesday after the verdict was announced the Panthers would be “respectful of the process” where Hardy is concerned.
With Ron Rivera and his coaching staff gone the rest of this week, it might be the beginning of next week before Rivera has a chance to meet with Hardy. The team’s annual Fan Fest at the stadium is July 25, the night before the teams heads to Spartanburg for the start of training camp.
Hardy, 25, is required to continue attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings three times a week as part of his original bond condition. The court also ordered Hardy to stay away from Holder, whose attorney left open the possibility of a civil suit.
After Tuesday’s deadline passed without a long-term deal, the Panthers cannot sign Hardy to an extension until after the 2014 season.
But the events of May 13 – and the violent and reckless behavior described by witnesses in Hardy’s trial this week – will likely give the Panthers as well as other NFL teams pause before making a long-term commitment to Hardy.