Hardy jeopardizes future with Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The one-liners began Tuesday, soon after news surfaced that Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy had been arrested on charges of domestic violence.

The most common: "When will The Kraken be released?"

That was an obvious play on Hardy's talking this past season about releasing the alter-ego he refers to as "The Kraken." For months, there have been T-shirts on sale, in Carolina black and blue colors, that actually say, "Release The Kraken."

If this wasn't so sad, that might be funny.

But there is nothing funny about what Hardy has been accused of, the charges he faces and what it potentially could mean to the team -- and him.

The Panthers guaranteed the Pro Bowl player $13.1 million in 2014 not just because he collected a team-best 15 sacks last season and is a big part of what they do defensively, but because he appeared to have matured past the mistakes he made early in his NFL career and at Ole Miss.

General manager Dave Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera were so impressed with the person and player Hardy had become that they were trying to negotiate a long-term deal.

Hardy's arrest can't be good for any leverage he might have had.

It's certainly not good for the Panthers.

Unless he's cleared legally, the charges of "assault on a female" -- according to the police report, a woman Hardy has been in an active relationship with since September 2013 -- will be mentioned in almost every story written about Hardy.

That's not the type of connection team owner Jerry Richardson typically tolerates. The Panthers released Chris Terry during the 2002 season only a few months after the offensive tackle was charged with assaulting his wife.

In 2008, with no charges involved, the team suspended Steve Smith for two games after the wide receiver got into a fight with one of his teammates in training camp.

Hardy should be nervous as he spends the night in the Mecklenburg County Police Department jail.

He spent four years working his tail off trying to prove he deserved the big contract that he has always wanted. He was willing to work his tail off for another year, while under the franchise tag, to get a long-term deal with the Panthers, a team he had come to love.

Now his long-term future, at least with the Panthers, could be in jeopardy.

It's a shame. Hardy was a big part of what Carolina did last season as the league's No. 2 defense. He showed rare ability with his flexibility to pressure the quarterback, play end or tackle, and drop back in coverage.

He became endearing in interviews when he went into what he called "Kraken mode." It brought us moments such as his prediction of 50 sacks when the league record was 22.5, and a boast that he could beat LeBron James in a game of 1-on-1.

And who will forget the Sunday night game against the New Orleans Saints when, while wearing sunglasses, he introduced himself to NBC's national television audience as "The Kraken from Hogwarts."

"He's a very unique individual," Rivera said the next week. "He really is. He's got so much ability, so much talent and he really just enjoys playing the game."

But in Hardy you always suspected there was a persona that lived on the edge of greatness and self-destruction. The summer after being involved in a 2011 motorcycle accident that kept him out of most of the preseason, he tweeted a picture of the speedometer in a Bentley traveling faster than 100 mph.

His driving record is spotted with speeding charges. His college record is filled with reports of behavioral and maturity issues that played a role in his being a sixth-round pick instead of a first- or second-rounder when the Panthers selected him in 2010.

"You just wish that light bulb would go on and stay lit for a long time," Matt Saunders, a close friend and former Ole Miss graduate assistant, told the Commercial Appeal in Memphis in 2008.

Perhaps the charges Hardy faces now will light that bulb. Perhaps he will become a model citizen the rest of the year and earn that long-term deal he spoke of so often.

Perhaps the damage already has been done.

"Release the Kraken" has taken on a new meaning these days.

And it's nothing to laugh at.