A rumor broke on Monday from credible Cowboys analysts that the team had decided to move on from soon-to-be free agent Greg Hardy. In response, Stephen Jones has made a public statement that the team is not yet decided on Hardy. Is this the truth or the typical management move of trying to maintain leverage until point you absolutely don't need it? Only the Cowboys know for sure.
Let's assume that the original report is correct and that Dallas intends to let Hardy walk. Some are rightfully surprised by this news given the current issues at defensive end. Randy Gregory will be serving a four-game suspension to start the year and DeMarcus Lawrence is recovering from minor back surgery. Jeremy Mincey and Jack Crawford are free agents, leaving just Ryan Russell currently under contract from last year's squad.
It would be a mistake, in my opinion, to label Dallas' decision as an admittance of error about signing Hardy last year. I've already seen some trying to say just that; that the Cowboys have realized they were wrong to give Hardy a chance after learning more about his domestic abuse case. There's also the notion that Hardy was too much of a locker room problem and burned his bridge in Dallas.
Let's put aside all that conjecture and focus on the one fact we have about Hardy in 2015; he had just four sacks in his last 11 games. You don't need to know anymore than that to understand why Dallas is moving on. I'm not saying the other stuff isn't a factor, but it's secondary to the simple truth that Hardy wasn't a difference-maker for the defense after his first few weeks.
We didn't realize it at the the time, but even Hardy's grand debut has to be taken with a grain of salt. After serving his suspension Hardy debuted in seemingly top form with two sacks, a forced fumble, and several other hits on Tom Brady. However, just a few months later, we saw Brady and the Patriots' offensive line get massacred by the Broncos. Was Hardy really making an impact there or was it more an issue of the Patriots' horrible pass protection?
Put that game aside and Hardy's season was well short of impactful. He did have one more sack the next week and an interception the week after, but from there he had just three sacks over the final nine games. By comparison, Mincey had six sacks in his last nine weeks of 2014.
Hardy was supposed to blow Mincey out of the water. That's why Dallas bit the bullet on signing him and took on all of the public relation backlash after Hardy's domestic issues. That's why they put up with Hardy's Twitter misbehavior and reported issues with practice and team meeting tardiness and absence, or his minor dust-up with Special Team Coach Rich Bisaccia.
Remember, Dallas could have cut bait with Hardy at any point last year. They structured his contract specifically with that provision; a penalty-free option to release him whenever they felt they needed to. Despite Hardy's lack of production, and despite their season going in the toilet pretty quickly thanks to the Tony Romo injury, things never got so bad that Dallas felt they needed to cut Hardy loose.
To be clear, I wouldn't blame the Cowboys if they wanted to bring Hardy back. He turns just 28 in July and still has better skills than most of what's out there in free agency. Dallas has already taken the media hit for doing business with Hardy and perhaps they could chalk up his low production to all of the turmoil and distractions swirling around his personal life. Taking a chance on him getting back to form next year, further removed from the drama, would be a logical move.
In the end, though, football isn't very merciful. Dallas took a big P.R. hit and paid Hardy a lot money for very little in return. That doesn't sit well with any front office. Hardy could've overcome every bit of his personal issues with on-field production. He didn't, and I expect Dallas would rather look to new options than stick with a seemingly bad investment.
Maybe they'll be wrong. Hardy could sign with a new team and be back to double-digit sacks. I'm sure some of those clamoring for Dallas to part ways now will have short memories and later criticize them for giving up too soon. That logic I described earlier about Hardy bouncing back could wind up being another team's to enjoy.
Much like they took a chance by signing Hardy, though, I think Dallas will take the risk of letting him walk. They won't lose sleep over whatever success he has with his next team because, here and now, they sent a clear message to their players that you have to show up on Sunday. Yes, they'll put up with plenty Monday thru Saturday if you do it, but what happens on the field is ultimately what matters.