Scott Fowler

NFL’s 10-game penalty for Cowboys DE Greg Hardy a pleasant surprise

Greg Hardy, shown in 2012 trying to sack Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, is now a teammate of Romo’s on the Dallas Cowboys. But Hardy was handed a 10-game suspension by the NFL this week. The suspension will be appealed -- Hardy’s Cowboys face Carolina this season on Thanksgiving Day in Texas.
Greg Hardy, shown in 2012 trying to sack Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, is now a teammate of Romo’s on the Dallas Cowboys. But Hardy was handed a 10-game suspension by the NFL this week. The suspension will be appealed -- Hardy’s Cowboys face Carolina this season on Thanksgiving Day in Texas. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Ten games?!

I don’t know about you, but I was pretty shocked about the length of time the NFL has told former Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy he must miss in the 2015 season.

Shocked, yes – but also pleasantly surprised.

Criticize the NFL’s motives all you want, because there is no way the league would have given Hardy to a 10-game suspension if the Ray Rice elevator video had never surfaced. That indisputable video evidence in a totally unrelated domestic violence case changed the discussion forever in the NFL when it came to men hitting women.

But in this case, even if it was for some of the wrong reasons, I believe the NFL got the punishment right. Hardy deserved to get a sentence that raised eyebrows around America because of what the NFL’s extensive investigation determined he did. I believe he got what he deserved.

Now will that 10-games-with-no-pay punishment actually stick after Hardy’s inevitable appeal? I have serious doubts. If the suspension gets cut roughly in half at some point, I would not be surprised.

Goodell carefully said in announcing the punishment that it would have been appropriate under the current or former personal conduct policy of the NFL, but that may not be enough to convince a neutral party.

Hardy, after all, was never officially convicted of a crime. Although an N.C. district judge ruled in Charlotte in July he was guilty of two misdemeanors for assaulting and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend during an altercation in May 2014, Hardy’s immediate appeal had the legal effect of setting aside both the conviction and the sentence.

Then his accuser, Nicole Holder, didn’t show up the second time around for what was supposed to be a jury trial in February. Prosecutors said at the time and later told the NFL they had “reliable information” that she received a financial settlement from Hardy to ensure that she didn’t sue him in civil court. The charges were dismissed in a case that had been unraveling for weeks.

Holder wouldn’t talk to the NFL for its two-month probe, but the league still decided to pursue the Hardy investigation with laudable vigor. Here’s why: After royally botching the Rice punishment – he was originally suspended for two games – NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is never going to err on the side of leniency again in a case like this.

As Goodell said at a news conference in September, when he admitted once again he got the Rice punishment wrong initially: “The same mistakes can never be repeated.”

I have long advocated that the Panthers cut ties with Hardy, and I am glad they did before this suspension.

Let Dallas – his new employer, and the team the Panthers will face on the road Thanksgiving Day in a game Hardy should be eligible to play – deal with the fallout. Let the Cowboys answer the questions of why you would sell a piece of your soul to hire a player with such an erratic personality.

The answer, of course, can be found on tape, but not on a video like the one where Rice punched the woman who later became his wife. There is no smoking gun like that in the Hardy case, although there was a futon covered with several military-style assault rifles. Hardy threw Holder on top of it, the NFL believes.

The Cowboys hired Hardy because of a different kind of videotape – the one that chronicles the havoc he caused on the field in 2013, when he tied a Panthers team record with 15 sacks.

Dallas gave Hardy an incentive-laden, non-guaranteed, one-year contract that could have been worth up to $13.2 million. He might only get about $5 million of that now if his 10-game NFL suspension (officially for conduct detrimental to the league) stands.

An appeal is inevitable, because millions of dollars are at stake.

Speaking of millions, the Panthers paid Hardy $13.1 million in 2014, and for that they received his services for exactly one game. Not because he was hurt, but because of an off-field issue. And that wasn’t his first off-field issue in Carolina, either – remember that motorcycle accident he had?

Hardy is a loose Kraken cannon. I’m glad he’s rolling around in Texas now rather than in Charlotte.

The Panthers need to stand for something. As a parent of four impressionable kids, I am glad I don’t have to explain to them why Hardy is part of that something.

The NFL’s decision – no matter how likely it is to be shortened – is only further proof of the fact that the Panthers’ decision to say goodbye to Hardy was absolutely correct.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler

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