After botching the Ray Rice investigation by failing to obtain a copy of the infamous video of the former Baltimore Ravens running back knocking out his then-fiancee, the NFL is trying to ensure its investigation of Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy is more thorough.
As a result, any team pondering whether to sign Hardy as a free agent might have to wait a while before learning if, or for how many games, Hardy is suspended.
The league filed a motion Friday asking that Hardy’s case file be unsealed, arguing that because the charges against Hardy were dismissed last week, the contents of the file should no longer be considered classified.
Lisa Friel, the former New York City sex crimes prosecutor who is leading the NFL’s investigation of Hardy, also presumably wants to look at the transcript from Hardy’s bench trial in July.
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However, that transcript isn’t in the file. Chris Fialko, Hardy’s attorney, hired a court reporter to take the transcription in district court. Fialko would not say last week whether the league has requested the transcript or if he would provide it if asked.
The most enlightening portion of the file could be the dozens of photographs showing the injuries to Hardy’s ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder, who testified that Hardy dragged her around his condo, tossed her into a tub and threw her on to a futon covered with semi-automatic weapons.
The photos were not visible to reporters during the July bench trial, when Hardy was found guilty of the misdemeanor charges of assaulting Holder and threatening to kill her. After Hardy immediately appealed the decision, the file was sealed in advance of his jury trial.
Fialko attempted to downplay the severity of Holder’s injuries in court, asking her, “You didn’t break a fingernail, did you?”
When Holder said she’d broken a toenail, Fialko sarcastically replied, “Well, good.”
Friel and NFL officials likely won’t be able to question Holder about the events leading up to and including the early-morning altercation last May in Hardy’s uptown condo.
If the Mecklenburg County district attorney’s office couldn’t track Holder down with subpoena power, the NFL might have a better chance convincing Marshawn Lynch to talk to the media than finding Holder.
Hardy will remain in limbo until the NFL reaches a decision, which still is expected before the start of free agency on March 10.
If Hardy is suspended -- the baseline is six games for domestic abuse violations under the league’s new personal conduct policy – the players’ union almost certainly will file a grievance, which would further delay the process and potentially drive down Hardy’s market value.
Meanwhile, Panthers players continue to lobby – publicly and privately – for Carolina’s front office to give Hardy another chance. The team has given no indication it plans to re-sign Hardy, who made $13.1 million last season while playing in one game.
The organization has given Hardy second and third chances previously. Those incidents include showing up late for meetings, injuring himself in a motorcycle wreck and tweeting a photo while apparently driving his Bentley 100 mph.
Those actions can be chalked up to “poor judgment” – albeit repeatedly – and certainly didn’t rise to the level of Holder’s accusations. Now that Holder has taken her civil settlement and disappeared, it’s up to Friel and NFL officials to talk to witnesses and sift through the evidence to determine if Hardy did anything wrong.
It appears they plan to take a deliberate, careful approach.
Three Guys I’m looking Forward to Seeing at the Combine
Pittsburgh OT T.J. Clemmings
Clemmings struggled in one-on-one pass protection at the Senior Bowl, but the combine offers the 6-foot-4, 313-pounder a chance to show off his athleticism and upside. Clemmings was a defensive end until two years ago, and he has the frame and long arms that scouts like in a tackle. Clemmings, who was a right tackle at Pittsburgh, figures to test well in Indianapolis, and could make a move in a tackle class that scouts are still evaluating. For what it’s worth, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. has the Panthers taking Clemmings at No. 25 in his latest mock survey. Clemmings is just one of the tackles the Panthers will be watching and meeting with this week.
Clemson DE Corey Crawford
Martavis Bryant, Clemson’s “other” receiver besides Sammy Watkins in last year’s draft, had a tremendous rookie season after Pittsburgh took him in the fourth round. Crawford, the Tigers’ “other” defensive end opposite Vic Beasley, could be another mid-round sleeper. Crawford, the nation’s No. 1 prep-school player before arriving at Clemson, had a more productive 2013 season than Beasley, a projected top-10 pick. But Crawford was suspended for the 2014 opener vs. Georgia, a bad start to a pedestrian senior season. Crawford (6-5, 270) has a huge wingspan, but he lacks Beasley’s explosive first step. He’ll have to prove to scouts he’s passionate about the game after skipping the Senior Bowl.
Coastal Carolina OT Chad Hamilton
Panthers GM Dave Gettleman has shown he’s willing to take a chance on a small-school lineman in a later round. And while Edmund Kugbila has been a bust, it shouldn’t stop the Panthers from scouting Hamilton, a durable player who missed one game in four seasons. Hamilton (6-3, 305) doesn’t have ideal size for a tackle, and could end up at guard in the NFL. But he led Coastal Carolina with 66 knockdowns in 2014, while allowing just two sacks in 443 pass attempts. Hamilton will be one of only two FCS offensive linemen in Indianapolis.