Panthers mailbag: Why not re-sign Greg Hardy at a discount?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – I normally answer questions here from only Twitter. But I understand there are some non-social media readers win inquiring minds, so I’m going to make an exception and start Saturday's Panthers mailbag with this question received via email because it reflects what I’ve heard from others.

Here’s what Graham asked amid his commentary: “If the Panthers were to re-sign Greg Hardy, our chances of reaching the Super Bowl greatly increase. I understand Jerry Richardson has maintained one of the "cleaner" teams in the league (which I like and respect), but with Greg's case recently dismissed, Jerry owes the fans (and players) the best opportunity to win ... now. For Greg's deal, it simply needs to be team-friendly and incentive based to make Greg prove himself again. Why not?’’

@DNewtonESPN: First, there’s no doubt Hardy would make Carolina better. He would make any team better because he’s an elite pass rusher. As for owner Jerry Richardson trying to maintain a clean image, that has been his goal from the outset. There have been a few bad apples such as Rae Carruth, but that doesn’t change the goal. I’m all for second chances. I get what you’re saying about an incentive-based, team-friendly deal. But this isn’t Hardy’s first mistake. There was the motorcycle accident a few years ago and a couple of minor incidents in college that raised eyebrows. That’s why he was available in the sixth round of the 2010 draft. He still refers to himself as his alter persona, The Kraken, although now it’s OverlordKraken. While there are a lot of things to like about Hardy, from his work ethic off the field to his performance on it, he’s still considered a wild card in terms of his personality. His repeated retweets of every person that recently has suggested the Panthers should bring him back has almost a feel of desperation to it. There’s also the money to consider. The Panthers proved they could be a top 10 defense last season without Hardy. Second-round draft pick Kony Ealy actually played at a higher level as a rookie than Hardy did, so you can expect more from him. The Panthers have more urgent needs at left tackle and signing quarterback Cam Newton to a long-term deal. They also have to play for a long-term deal for middle linebacker Luke Kuechly soon. Even at a discount, there’s a good chance Hardy could meet the incentives you suggested. Then in a year or two the Panthers would be back in the position of deciding whether to give Hardy a huge long-term deal. I get your point and you’re not alone in your thinking. There are some in the organization that feel the same way. You ask why not? I ask why?

@DNewtonESPN: The need is for speed opposite Kelvin Benjamin, who had a solid rookie year. There are a few that might fit the bill, from San Diego's Eddie Royal to San Francisco's Michael Crabtree to Ted Ginn Jr., already on the market after being released by Arizona. Ginn is interesting because he excelled as a returner and receiver for Carolina in 2013. He'd come at a reduced price, too. He's also being courted by the Browns, and the opportunity to play in his hometown where his dad remains the head coach of his high school football team might be too strong of a pull. The good news for Carolina is there are a lot of options in free agency. @DNewtonESPN: There's no cutting Byron Bell here. He becomes an unrestricted free agent on March 10. The Panthers simply informed Bell they would not be interested in re-signing him so he can focus on free agency. @DNewtonESPN: I think the Panthers will consider drafting an offensive tackle in the first round regardless of whether they sign Michael Oher or any other tackle in free agency. I'm not sure Oher is the answer, by the way. He struggled the past two seasons. He's on the open market because he hasn't performed, the same reason the Panthers are letting Byron Bell test free agency. @DNewtonESPN:  Josh Norman indeed is trending towards elite cornerback status. Carolina coach Ron Rivera wouldn't go so far as to call him a shutdown corner last season, but he shut down some pretty good receivers (See Atlanta's Julio Jones). He's another young player the Panthers need to tie up long term if he shows last year wasn't a fluke. @DNewtonESPN: The wide receiver out of East Carolina had a productive college career, but he lacks the elite speed the Panthers are seeking in a high-round pick. @DNewtonESPN: I won't say definitively no, but he just doesn't seem like a Dave Gettleman guy to me. @DNewtonESPN: That's a lot of ifs. I'll say this. Regardless of what happens in free agency and the draft, I believe the Panthers will be a contender in the NFC South because they have a better foundation on defense than anybody else in the division. I don't see that as an overnight fix for New Orleans or Atlanta. @DNewtonESPN: I don't see it happening until sometime after this season. Getting a long-term deal for Cam Newton is the more immediate priority. The Panthers still can use the fifth-year option on Kuechly for 2016 if need be, so there's no rush on their part. But I see something getting done before it gets to that. He's proven to be one of the best defensive players in the NFL and Carolina will want to get something done sooner rather than later. @DNewtonESPN: Gettleman has waited a couple of weeks in each of his first two years. First, he didn't have the money for top names. Second, he likes letting the market die down from the initial shopping rush. He might move a little sooner this year with more money to spend, but I wouldn't look for anything the first three or four days.