Superior Court Judge Robert Sumner has dismissed the two domestic violence charges against Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, reports Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer (Twitter links). According to Person (Twitter links), the state had been unable to locate alleged victim Nicole Holder, despite multiple and repeated attempts. Jason Cole of Bleacher Report reported earlier this morning (via Twitter) that a settlement had been reached between Hardy and Holder.
While the dismissal of the case clears Hardy legally, the NFL’s new personal conduct policy calls for an independent investigation by the league, and there’s no guarantee that Roger Goodell will abstain from penalizing Hardy just because the charges were dropped. Hardy missed all but one game in the 2014 season, but it wasn’t technically a suspension. He landed on the commissioner’s exempt list, and still received his full salary for the season, in a situation similar to Adrian Peterson‘s in Minnesota. The standout pass rusher would’ve been facing a lengthy suspension had he been convicted — now, the discipline he receives from the league figures to be more modest.
Hardy’s stock heading into free agency remains a little cloudy, at least until the NFL announces what penalty, if any, will be levied against him. But he’s certainly in better shape now than he would’ve been if his trial had dragged out and perhaps resulted in a conviction. I’d assume that the Panthers are still unlikely to assign the franchise tag to Hardy. In spite of his talent and his past production for the club, a franchise salary would cost more than $15MM, and would send a questionable message, especially after a portion of the $13MM+ that the team paid the 26-year-old in 2014 presumably went toward his settlement with Holder.
Assuming Hardy does reach the open market, he figures to draw significant interest from teams in the market for a pass rusher. Not many players in the NFL are better at getting to the quarterback than the former sixth-round pick, who racked up 26 total sacks in 2012 and 2013.