Greg Hardy: Suspension, Appeal, and Cowboys’ Plans


In the wake of Greg Hardy’s 10 game suspension announcement, and the pending appeal, the Dallas Cowboys are forced to adapt to life without Hardy.

Ten games is a substantial amount of games when considering it makes up over 60% of the NFL regular season. Factor in time it takes to get into game-shape, melding with linemates, and integration into the rotation, and Greg Hardy may never be up to 100% with the Cowboys next season.

Like Ray Rice before him, Greg Hardy is expected to appeal the ruling, citing the offence took place before the league tightened its stance against domestic violence. Like Ray Rice before him, that appeal is expected to work. To what extent the 10-game ruling will be overturned remains to be seen, but early indications say the 10 games will not stand.

Why would the league issue a penalty they suspect will be overturned?

Because this is all about PR for Roger Goodell and the NFL. Weeks ago I illustrated the NFL’s reason to take this slow and err on the side of caution – so they can avoid the backlash.

I said this last month about Goodell’s intentions:

"“Goodell can’t afford to screw this up and look like he’s going soft on domestic violence again. After going shamefully soft on domestic violence during his entire tenure, Goodell finally faced a public backlash for his mishandling of the Ray Rice incident.After initially suspending Rice a whole 2 games (sarcasm intended) for punching a woman in the face, a video tape was released showing everyone in the world exactly what something like that looked like. The public outcry was severe, and the dozens of domestic violence cases NFL players incur per year were exposed – As was the NFL’s pathetic stance on them. Goodell eventually extended the suspension but the damage was done, and many were calling for Goodell’s job.”"

A move like this was to paint the NFL as the good guys. The NFL wants to be seen as an intolerant moral compass by which all must conform, when really they are a business interested in making money and managing PR. And that’s perfectly alright too. Frankly, the incident was so disgusting, Hardy probably deserves much worse, but like the court system, the league must operate within its rules. And those rules look like they’re in Greg Hardy’s favor.

The impact this has on the Dallas Cowboys is severe. As everyone knows, Rod Marinelli often runs a variation of the famed, Tampa 2 defense. His Tampa 2, together with a traditional Cover 2, and Single High Safety, relies heavily on pressure generated by the defensive line. Rod Marinelli will blitz from time to time, but blitzing notoriously leaves fewer players in coverage, and that is something Marinelli prefers to avoid. Pressure from the front four is key, which makes defensive end a very premium position on this defense.

Last year notwithstanding, Greg Hardy has established himself as one of the most dominant defensive ends in the NFL. In 2012, the 24 year old pass rusher out of Ol’ Miss collected 11 sacks, 12 QB hits, and 34 hurries. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked him as the #6 overall 4-3 DE. He graded out positively in both pass-rushing and run stopping, making him a dominant every-down DE playing 769 snaps in 15 games.

In 2013 Greg Hardy increased his already impressive career-high by totaling 15 sacks, 25 QB hits, and 44 hurries. PFF ranked him the #2 43 DE in the NFL as he continued his trend of being a dominant pass-rusher and run-stopper. After sitting out 15 games of the 2014 season for reasons alluded to above, the now-26 year old looks to reclaim his dominant status with the Dallas Cowboys.

For more on Greg Hardy’s missing season read: The Devil is in the Details

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Greg Hardy is just entering his physical prime at age 26 (27 by season’s start). He has shown the ability to post consecutive double-digit sack seasons without neglecting the running game (which often times pass-rushing DEs do). He collects more penalties than you’d like to see, but with the level of energy he uses every snap, a few “aggressive” penalties are expected.

He’s not the sharp-lean edge rusher that DeMarcus Ware was, or DeMarcus Lawrence appears to be, but rather a pretty amazing mix of speed and strength. Instead of circling in from behind the QB, Hardy will often cut on an angle and go straight at his target.

Perhaps the most impressive item in Hardy’s arsenal is his active hands. It’s impossible for me to not see Reggie White in his game, as he’s constantly jockeying for hand position and making the opposition look foolish in the process.

His diverse range of pass-rushing skills strikes fear in opposing tackles who are unsure what to expect snap to snap. Add in Hardy’s oft-used stutter step, and many linemen move themselves out of position before Hardy even makes contact.

A player with the rare skills of Hardy would fit on any NFL team, but on team which places extra value in front four pressure players, he’s invaluable.

Therein lies the problem. As Rick Gosselin pointed out yesterday morning, the Dallas Cowboys just lost Henry Melton, Anthony Spencer, George Selvie, and Bruce Carter. Those three may not strike fear in the hearts of opposing offensive linemen, but they accounted for 9 of the Cowboys’ 28 sacks last season.

Hardy was supposed to solve the sack-starved crisis, but how effective can he be in just 6 regular season games? The appeal may change the suspension but can the Cowboys afford to bet the farm on it, or must they adapt in the draft?

Before yesterday’s announcement, I had the Cowboys pegged for another CB in round 1. But now, even feeling optimistic with the effectiveness of an appeal, I don’t feel so good about that. The draft is literally a week away, and the Dallas Cowboys better know what they’re doing in round 1, because time is running out on the Tony Romo Window.

Suddenly, picking a pass-rusher like Randy Gregory doesn’t sound so crazy. Maybe it’s time to go all-in on crazy…

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