Scott Fowler

Panthers owe Greg Hardy at least $7 million for not playing, and no one is happy

So Greg Hardy has left the building to take a vacation from the Carolina Panthers until mid-November. He will be paid close to $7 million over the next two months to stay away from all the team’s games and practices until his legal issues are resolved.

And absolutely no one is happy about it.

It’s too soft, say those who believe Hardy’s convictions in July for assaulting and threatening his former girlfriend in a domestic violence case should have resulted in immediate firing.

It’s too harsh, say those who point out Hardy is appealing those convictions and believe he should not be punished at all until due process is served.

Hardy doesn’t like it, because he wants to play. He apologized to head coach Ron Rivera on Wednesday.

“Greg is hurt,” said Rivera, who had a 90-minute, one-on-one conversation with Hardy on Wednesday before the player decided to take a voluntary leave with pay (the alternative was likely an NFL-mandated suspension). “He really is. It’s a tough situation. He knows he put himself in it.”

The Panthers don’t like it, because they signed Hardy to a $13.1-million, one-year contract for this season before all this happened and now they won’t have him for at least the next nine games. Carolina is 2-0 and won without Hardy last week, but there is no way the team is better without a Pro Bowl defensive end who had 15 sacks in 2013.

The earliest Hardy could return is for the Nov. 30 game at Minnesota. If his court date is delayed, or if he’s found guilty again, the Panthers won’t have him at all in 2014.

The whole situation is a mess, and everyone who has touched it has some mud spattered on them. The Panthers’ entire leadership team needs to go to a seminar on crisis management. They mishandled this one on several levels.

But the resolution became inevitable when big-time NFL sponsors such as Anheuser-Busch started making noise Tuesday about the league not being hard enough on its players who get into major trouble. Image is everything, as Andre Agassi used to say, and the NFL’s image was at risk.

Almost immediately, Minnesota deactivated running back Adrian Peterson – after saying he was going to play despite being involved in a child abuse case – and placed him on an “exempt list” that few people had even heard of until Wednesday. He won’t be playing, either, until his court case is resolved.

The Vikings admitted they made a mistake by activating Peterson earlier this week. Neither Rivera nor general manager Dave Gettleman used the word “mistake” Wednesday, but they sure made one in Week 1 when they let Hardy play.

“At that time we felt it was the right thing to do,” Gettleman said. “It’s constantly changing. There’s no rulebook for this.”

There was certainly a tide of public opinion that threatened to overwhelm the Panthers, however – much of it generated by the Ray Rice “punch” video. Rice got thrown out of the league after that video surfaced, and Hardy happened to be the next player in line with a high-profile domestic violence issue.

“The climate changed,” Rivera said.

So later Wednesday, Hardy went onto the same exempt list as Peterson. This obscure list had suddenly become the go-to attic for the NFL to stash its problems.

You better believe the NFL – after hearing from all those angry sponsors – was going to find some way for Peterson and Hardy not to play on Sunday.

Money talks. Peterson and Hardy were going to have to walk.

Hardy “volunteered” for this leave of absence only because the alternatives were worse.

Hardy also issued a statement Wednesday through the Panthers that sounded absolutely nothing like the way he really talks. Google his “911” call from that dark night in May if you want to hear what his real voice sounds like.

“My decision to take a leave of absence allows me to focus on my family until the legal process has run its course,” Hardy said in Wednesday’s statement.

Rivera said Hardy was in a “good place” after their conversation. He said Hardy expects to be back with the team in November, which would mean both no delay in the trial and a “not guilty” verdict.

I don’t think both those things will happen, though. I think Greg Hardy has played his last down as a Carolina Panther.

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