The NFL on Wednesday came down harder than expected on Greg Hardy, suspending the Dallas Cowboys defensive end for 10 games without pay to start the 2015 season. A source said Hardy will appeal immediately.
If upheld, Hardy’s first eligible game for the Cowboys will be on Thanksgiving against his former team, the Carolina Panthers. He can participate in all off-season work, training camp and the preseason. His suspension starts Sept. 5, and he won’t be allowed to work at Valley Ranch after that.
“This suspension is something that we anticipated prior to Greg’s signing, and we respect the Commissioner’s ruling,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. “Our organization understands the very serious nature of this matter. We will use our resources — work closely with Greg and with the league — to ensure a positive outcome.”
The NFL announced the decision Wednesday afternoon after a two-month investigation, saying the suspension is for “conduct detrimental to the league” stemming from a May 2014 incident that brought domestic violence charges against Hardy.
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The NFL investigation concluded that Hardy used physical force against his ex-girlfriend, Nicole Holder, in at least four instances.
A North Carolina judge convicted Hardy on domestic violence charges last July, but Hardy appealed and sought a jury trial. The case was dropped when the court could not locate Holder, who reportedly reached a financial settlement with Hardy.
That didn’t prevent the NFL from pursuing its own investigation, which included “numerous interviews with witnesses and experts, a review of hundreds of pages of court records, documents and exhibits, photographs, police reports, medical records, and reports and opinions of medical experts retained by Hardy’s attorneys and by the NFL office.”
Although the NFL failed in multiple attempts to interview Holder, the league found at least four specific instances in which Hardy used physical force against her. In one instance, she landed on a futon covered with at least four semi-automatic rifles. In another Hardy placed his hands around her neck and applied enough pressure to leave visible marks.
“The net effect of these acts was that Ms. Holder was severely traumatized and sustained a range of injuries, including bruises and scratches on her neck, shoulders, upper chest, back, arms and feet,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to Hardy explaining the suspension.
“The use of physical force under the circumstances present here, against a woman substantially smaller than you and in the presence of powerful, military-style assault weapons, constitutes a significant act of violence in violation of the Personal Conduct Policy.”
It’s a stiffer than expected punishment for Hardy. He missed 15 games last season after being placed on the commissioner’s exempt list but was paid his $13.1 million salary. Most observers felt he’d be in line for a suspension ranging from four to six games.
But the Cowboys knew they were gambling on a troubled player when they signed Hardy on March 18 to boost their pass rush. They had only 28 sacks last season and were desperate to find an impact player to help.
The Cowboys protected themselves as much as possible for a suspension of this nature by structuring the contract to escalate based on playing time.
Hardy’s base salary is $750,000, and he has a workout bonus of $1.31 million. Per-game roster bonuses could total as much as $9.25 million for 16 games, and $1.8 million in incentives based on sacks.
By missing 10 games, Hardy would only be in line to receive $264,706 of his base salary and a maximum of $3,468,750 of the $9.25 million roster bonus. Adding in the workout bonus, Hardy would make slightly more than $5 million this year. It’s highly unlikely he could reach any sack incentives by playing in only six games.
And six games might be a stretch. The Cowboys have a short week going into the Thanksgiving game, which means Hardy would only have two light practices to get back into football shape after being away from the team for the first 11 weeks. It’s possible he wouldn’t be ready until the following week, a Monday night game at Washington on Dec. 7.
For the Cowboys, it’s a blow considering they viewed Hardy as an answer to their lack of pass rush and expected him to play more than six regular-season games.
But even that is not guaranteed, as Goodell reminded Hardy in the letter: “You must have no further adverse involvement with law enforcement and must not commit any additional violations of league policies. In that respect, you should understand that another violation of this nature may result in your banishment from the NFL.”
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760