Greg Hardy gets franchise tag

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy said this past season he wouldn't be opposed to the Carolina Panthers using the franchise tag if that's what it took for him to remain with the team.

On Friday, the Panthers used it.

Carolina secured Hardy for one more season by using the tag that will guarantee the 25-year-old star between $12,455,000 and $12,623,000 this season.

"Yeah, it's cool,'' Hardy told ESPN.com. "I'm happy with it.''

The Panthers will continue to negotiate a long-term deal. The franchise tag will afford them time to come up with a more lucrative package for 2015 and beyond, when the team isn't as strapped under the salary cap, as general manager Dave Gettleman has said repeatedly.

Sources told ESPN.com the sides weren't close enough on a long-term deal at this time to reach an agreement. Prior to placing the tag on Hardy, the Panthers were about $24 million under the cap if it is set near $133 million, as has been reported.

"The franchise mechanism gives us time to secure the services of a very good player while we continue to look at the future of Greg with the Carolina Panthers,'' Gettleman said in a prepared statement. "We have had a great dialogue with both Greg and his agent. It was important to keep our defensive front together.''

Hardy led the Panthers with 15 sacks last season en route to making the Pro Bowl for the first time. He has 26 sacks over the past two seasons after having only seven in his first two seasons.

A sixth-round draft pick in 2010, the 6-foot-4, 290-pound player who often refers to himself as "The Kraken'' said several times late in the season that he wanted to return to Carolina. He at one point said he would give the Panthers a "hometown'' discount if it was within reason of what other teams might offer.

The Panthers couldn't come up with that and had to find a way to keep one of their most versatile linemen, one who could play end, tackle and drop into coverage.

Coach Ron Rivera said repeatedly after the season ended that he wanted Hardy back and that he was an important part of what the league's No. 2-ranked defense did.

"He was a big reason we were able to lead the league in sacks last year, and [this] keeps our defensive line intact,'' Rivera said.

Hardy is the fifth player in Carolina history to receive the franchise tag. The others were punter Todd Sauerbrun (2003), tackle Jordan Gross (2008), defensive end Julius Peppers (2009) and center Ryan Kalil (2011).

He is the second of Carolina's 21 free agents secured. Kicker Graham Gano signed a four-year, $12.4 million deal earlier in the day.

With Gross' retirement on Wednesday, the Panthers have 18 unrestricted free agents remaining from last season's team.

But securing Hardy was the most significant.

Hardy also is one of the more colorful members of the team. He predicted prior to last season that he would have 50 sacks, more than twice the NFL's season record. He also predicted he could beat NBA star LeBron James in a game of one-on-one.

And he also talked a lot about getting paid what he believes he's worth.

"I feel I deserve the money,'' Hardy told ESPN.com while he was at the Pro Bowl. "I want to be the guy that everybody wants. I want to be the guy that everybody talks about. I'm not afraid to take that and run with it.''