Greg Hardy didn’t talk about his off-field issues when he met with reporters for the first time since signing with the Dallas Cowboys last March.
Hardy went into deflecting mode when asked about a May 2014 domestic violence incident that has kept him out of NFL regular-season games for 14 months. He avoided addressing any of those questions head-on in a 10-minute interview session, diverting every question back to the football field.
The opening question to Hardy was about how difficult had the past year been on him. His answer?
“It’s hard to get sacks when you’re not on the football field,” he said. “That’s my main purpose in football, to get back there and get sacks and make a difference on the team, and I wasn’t able to do that. It was a process mentally for myself.”
Greg Hardy was signed to help improve on the Cowboys’ total of 28 sacks last season. They have only six sacks this season, including three last week against the Saints.
Hardy refused to reflect back on his suspension and the reasons he missed games. He dodged a question about whether he felt he was found guilty considering the NFL’s harsh handling of the situation.
“I’ve been on the field lately. In the last few seasons, this honestly, it’s been a blur, getting ready to come back,” Hardy said. “And now that I’m back, I don’t reminisce. I don’t look back, other than to know that I need to get to practice, and I need to get to sacks, and I need to get to the place where I need to be to help this team. That’s where we’re at right now.”
The Cowboys caught public grief for signing Hardy, considering his troubled past. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings was among the most vocal in criticizing the move by the team.
Hardy’s message to those fans: “God bless you. That’s my message.”
Hardy continued to dance around off-field questions, but gave one of his more thoughtful responses as to why he felt the Cowboys were the best fit for him to continue his career.
“Great organization,” Hardy said. “It’s legendary program throughout the NFL already. Being a Carolina Panther, you definitely come face to face, one or two times, in the Pro Bowl, or some other kind of way with the players and coaches; I just felt immense care when I came here, especially speaking to Jerry [Jones] ... and all of the Joneses and the coaches, pretty much everyone just took me in and gave me a shot.
“That’s really all I need. And I appreciate it.”
Hardy and linebacker Rolando McClain returned from four-game suspensions this week to boost a defense that has struggled the past two weeks.
The Cowboys had only 28 sacks last season, a big reason they signed Hardy, and have only six sacks this season, including three last week against New Orleans.
“I hope I come out guns blazin’,” Hardy said. “I’m full of excitement and full of juice. I’m ready to go. I have what they call fresh legs. I’m really excited to get out there on that grass or turf and see what they can do.”
One of his sacks in 2013 came against Tom Brady, the first quarterback he’ll see when he makes his Cowboys’ debut Sunday. Hardy expressed excitement in facing Brady, and then chuckled when he mentioned Brady’s wife, model Gisele Bundchen.
“I love seeing Tom Brady; he’s cool,” Hardy said. “Have you seen his wife? I hope she comes to the game. I hope her sister comes to the game, all her friends come to the game. One of my favorite games of the year, guys.”
It’s unlikely that joke will go over too well, much like Hardy making light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks during last May’s NFL draft on his Twitter account that he later deleted and apologized for.
The off-field baggage is nothing new for Hardy, who spent the final 15 games last season on the commissioner’s exempt list and then was handed a 10-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy in April. Hardy appealed and arbitrator Harold Henderson reduced it to four games in July.
Hardy could have tried to get it further reduced, or possibly dropped, by taking it to federal court, but decided against it.
“Because I’m a Cowboy,” Hardy said. “We do what’s best for the team.”
Hardy served his four-game suspension and lost $2.2 million in possible roster bonuses. The Cowboys structured the deal as best they could to protect themselves from a possible suspension when they signed Hardy in March.
Hardy also has a maximum of $1.804 million in incentives that are going to be harder to attain because of the suspension. He will earn $500,000 for eight sacks, $1 million for 10 sacks, $1.4 million for 12 sacks and $1.804 million for 14 or more sacks.
For their part, Hardy’s teammates have embraced him and praised him. Everyone, from ownership to coaches to players, have only good things to say about Hardy’s work ethic and demeanor.
“Having a guy like that back, we’ll make each other work,” left tackle Tyron Smith said. “We’re all going to make each other work to play the best way we can.”