In signing controversial defensive end Greg Hardy, the Dallas Cowboys are not condoning domestic violence or being hypocritical in regard to coach Jason Garrett’s “we want the right type of guy” mantra.
It was a move to improve the football team based on exhaustive research and on a belief that Hardy “can become the right kind of guy,” per Garrett.
It’s also a move that comes with contract mechanisms in place to keep him accountable, per owner Jerry Jones.
For the first time since signing Hardy to an incentive-laden, one-year deal that could pay him up to $13 million in 2015, Garrett talked at length about the move that has critics questioning his ethics.
“First off, we understand the seriousness of domestic violence,” Garrett said from the NFL owners meetings Monday. “We obviously aren’t for domestic violence, so let’s get that out at the start. If we didn’t believe that Greg Hardy could become the right kind of guy, we would not have signed him.
“We addressed the issue head-on. We did a tremendous amount of research — again, dating back 10 years in his life with people who are close to him. We believe we found out about what this person is all about and what this player is all about, and then we made the decision to sign him. Again, our job is to create the right environment. His job is to respond to that environment. We’re going to do that on a daily basis.”
Garrett’s stance on Hardy is one of second chances. The Cowboys have done it before with players with varying degrees of success.
“We believe in redemption,” Garrett said. “If we create the right kind of environment to bring the best out in him, both on the field and off the field, and then we hold him accountable to that, we believe over time he can become the right kind of guy.”
Hardy’s one-year contract has a base value of $11.3 million, but $9.25 million is tied into per-game roster bonuses. The contract has no signing bonus and his base salary is $745,000. He can make $1.3 million in workout bonuses, paid weekly, which require him to be at the facility. He can get another $1.8 million in incentives based on sacks. The per-game roster bonus is $578,125 for a total of up to $9.25 million. That addresses a possible suspension from the NFL and serves as a hammer if he sways off course. He will not get paid if he is placed on injured reserve.
Hardy, who had a two-day visit with the Cowboys before signing, must play well and play nice.
“If you think about the contract we structured with Greg Hardy, there is great freedom for us to make the right decision for our football team at any time if we don’t feel like he’s becoming the right kind of guy,” Garrett said. “That was a very important part of this contract. We were not going to sign a contract where we didn’t have that ability to hold him accountable.”
According to Jones, Hardy and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, welcomed the unique contract that covers everything from potential suspension to bad behavior to domestic violence issues.
“The contract covers all league requirements,” Jones said. “Anything that anybody would have expected from our addressing domestic violence is addressed in the contract.”
Hardy is still on the NFL commissioner’s exempt list because of a 2014 domestic violence charge. The case was eventually dropped because the victim refused to cooperate with authorities after reportedly reaching a financial settlement from Hardy.
The NFL is doing an independent investigation, and he could face further discipline of a four- to six-game suspension this season. Hardy played in one game last season before going on the exempt list for the final 15 games.
Garrett said the Cowboys don’t know when a final ruling on a possible suspension will come, but they do anticipate Hardy getting some sort of discipline from the league.
The Cowboys’ research on Hardy was extensive. They have a coach on staff who played high school football with him. They have talked with his former college coaches at Mississippi, including Houston Nutt. They got an endorsement from the Carolina Panthers, his former team.
“He played for Ron Rivera in Carolina, and Ron Rivera and [Cowboys defensive coordinator] Rod Marinelli are close. The defensive line coach in Carolina has a connection with Rod Marinelli,” Garrett said. “We did our best to find out about him.”
The Cowboys had just 28 sacks last season. Hardy, a two-time Pro Bowler, has 34 career sacks, including 26 in 2012 and 2013, his last two full seasons. He had 15 sacks in 2013, third most in the league, when he was voted second-team All-Pro.
“Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is help our football team,” Garrett said. “Part of building the team is you make personnel decisions about people who you think can help your football team. You get your arms around who they are as people, who they are as players and you bring them on board.
“We’re in the process right now of building our football team, and this is a decision that we made that we think can help our team.”
Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760