Why Greg Hardy Is Still A Long Way Off From Playing For The Cowboys
On Wednesday, just hours after Greg Hardy signed an incentive-laden one-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys, the NFL filed another petition in a North Carolina court. The message, whether intentional or not, is that Hardy's disciplinary process did not end when he settled with the alleged victim in a domestic violence case.
Hardy was found guilty in a bench trial last summer, but he appealed the decision to a jury trial, as is his right under North Carolina law. The alleged victim was reportedly reticent to testify at the second trial, and the case ended when she didn't show up. Technically it was a settlement, but in this new era of NFL discipline, the league is wary of the appearance that a player may have paid his way out of legal trouble.
So this is an example of how the NFL has changed after a video of Ray Rice punching his then-girlfriend, with the league filing a petition to gain access to all the exhibits in Hardy's first trial. Those exhibits are listed as photos of injuries alleged to have been sustained by Hardy and the woman, as well as a list of weapons recovered from the scene.
The NFL has undertaken its own investigation to answer a simple question: What happened? Despite the potentially lucrative deal with the Cowboys, if Hardy did what he was convicted of last summer -- assaulting and threatening to kill a woman -- then he has violated the NFL's code of conduct policy, both the old one and the new one.
The NFL has run into trouble recently in the discipline meted out to Rice and running back Adrian Peterson. Rice won his appeal because his penalty was changed from two games to an indefinite suspension. Peterson won his appeal because he was disciplined under the new policy for alleged child abuse that occurred when the old, more lenient policy was in effect.
If the NFL is going to get the Hardy suspension right, it needs to stick with whatever the initial suspension is. But even under the old policy, that number could have been six games, which was what Ben Roethlisberger first received after sexual assault allegations in Georgia.
Teams had known Hardy could face additional discipline. It may be why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dropped out of the Hardy sweepstakes earlier on Thursday. "At the end of the day, we didn't feel good about it," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said to the Tampa Bay Times.
But Hardy got a second chance before he was even disciplined for his first infraction. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones took a different tack in his statement after the Hardy signing.
"Obviously a great deal of our study was dedicated to the issue of domestic violence, and the recent events that associated Greg with that issue," Jones said in the statement. "We know that Greg's status remains under review by the National Football League. Our organization understands the very serious nature of domestic violence in our society and in our league. We know that Greg has a firm understanding of those issues as well."
But the contract tells a different story. Whether Jones admits it or not, he's hedging his bet with Hardy.
Keep in mind that team owners watched as the Panthers paid Hardy roughly $13 million not to play as he sat on the commissioner's exempt list in 2014. So Hardy's new contract insulated the Cowboys from that risk by only paying him for games played. If Hardy encountered future legal trouble, the Cowboys wouldn't have to pay as he potentially returned to the exempt list.
The bigger message is that talent still trumps character in the NFL, no matter how many PowerPoint tutorials on domestic violence that players have to sit through. There's a new message, but it's an old calculus.
So all that's left, really, is the suspension.
The NFL expects Hardy to cooperate with its investigation, and if he refuses, that could be factored into any discipline.
Here is the dilemma for the NFL; How can it show that anything has changed if a man who was found guilty once but had the decision vacated because, the prosecutor alluded, the victim reached a civil settlement with the player? That looks like the way powerful men have always done business.
The potentially fat contract and upbeat statement from Jones only reinforce that impression. So if the NFL hopes to change that narrative, the suspension is the last chance.