While most Panthers were signing jerseys for teammates and throwing items into black trash bags Sunday afternoon, embattled defensive end Greg Hardy was as much a ghost in the locker room as he has been all season.
Hardy cleaned out his locker earlier in the day, saw a handful of teammates and apparently left a note for the rest of the Panthers and coach Ron Rivera on a white board before taking off before the final team meeting.
Carolina’s biggest unrestricted free agent who played one game in a season where he was paid $13.1 million, Hardy has likely played his final game for the Panthers. Carolina is not expected to sign him to a long-term deal this offseason no matter the outcome of his domestic violence jury trial, which could start as early as Feb. 9 when the district attorney’s domestic violence team is next on the court docket.
Despite Hardy’s only playing in Week 1’s game at Tampa Bay, the team still kept his locker while he was on the commissioner’s exempt list. Hardy had cleaned out most of his locker with the exception of a few pairs of cleats and items of clothing by the time the media was allowed in the locker room.
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A white board explaining to players that they could purchase their jerseys and helmets had been adorned in the top-right corner with a message in blue pen that was apparently from Hardy. He expressed his love for his teammates, singling out the running backs, the defensive line and Rivera.
“I LOVE YOU GUYS ALL J.P. [just playing] GET KRAKEN,” Hardy apparently wrote on the white board. “(but mostly [illegible] the Run N Backs & Monster Inc. & the Big Mexicano).”
Hardy had rarely visited the team facilities since being placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. His first known visit was in early December before the team went to the airport to travel to New Orleans.
Rivera has said Hardy had been training in his time off, and Hardy’s activity on social media indicates he has spent significant time in South Florida as well as making music.
Panthers cornerback Josh Norman said he hoped Sunday was not goodbye.
“A guy of that caliber, man, we need that,” Norman said. “Hands down, I would welcome that and relish the chance to play with that guy again.”
Norman said he prayed it was realistic that Hardy would be back, but multiple team sources have indicated to the Observer that Hardy is not in the Panthers’ plans.
In July, Hardy was found guilty by a district court judge of assaulting ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder and threatening to kill her. He immediately appealed for a jury trial, which was originally slated for Nov. 17 but later pushed back to this year.
Norman made clear his feelings on Hardy, who had 15 sacks in 2013 and went to the Pro Bowl, whichever way the jury decides.
“Either way, I want the man back,” Norman said. “I want G. Hardy, the Kraken, back in this locker room.
“I definitely do understand the ramifications of what’s being brought up against him, what’s going on. But I also do know Greg is a gentle giant outside of football. Most people, they see all the extra stuff that Greg (does) on the field. But I know the guy personally … and he’s one of the few good men I can honestly say I’m proud to be a teammate of his.”