Panthers coach Ron Rivera has had a busy week. On Tuesday, he signed a three-year extension to remain in Carolina, and earlier this evening he was crowned Coach of the Year. But despite his heavy personal schedule, Rivera is still thinking about the offseason, specifically the future of defensive end Greg Hardy, according to David Newton of ESPN.com. After a recent meeting with GM Dave Gettleman to discuss the team’s salary cap situation, Rivera gave his opinion on Hardy. “…we most certainly would like to have Greg back. He’s a big part of what we did this year. It’d be hard to imagine doing things without him.”
Hardy was selected in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, after poor performance and injury questions caused his stock to slip. He became a starter in 2012, and has since registered 26 sacks over the past two seasons. Pro Football Focus graded him as the third-best 4-3 defensive end, behind only Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake (subscription required). Hardy joined with Charles Johnson and Star Lotulelei in making the Panthers’ defensive line one of the most dominant in football.
Gettleman was ambiguous on his intentions regarding Hardy, but allowed that retaining the end wasn’t guaranteed. “Everybody in this league lets players go. There isn’t a team in this league that hasn’t let a big dog walk out the door, and don’t print that I’m saying he’s going to go. I’m just making a statement. There isn’t anybody that hasn’t done that. But again, there is a whole big puzzle we’re putting together. And he’s one of the pieces.”
Hardy has admitted that being franchise tagged would not be an issue for him, as long as a long-term deal was revisited at some point in the future. This might be the most likely option, as the Panthers are up against salary cap constrictions. The franchise tag figure for defensive ends will likely be around $12.5MM, according to Joel Corry of CBSSports.com.