They mitigated the contractual risk to Hardy on the one-year deal by making sure he earned most of his money for each game he is on the 53-man roster. The football risk is mild, considering just about everybody considered him the best pass-rusher available in free agency.
But the off-field risk is great and could affect the on-field production if he is suspended by the NFL for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
Would the Cowboys be as willing to take a character risk in the upcoming draft? They pour millions into the scouting of players to know all about the player on and off the field. The off-field concerns factor into the grades, and the Cowboys have deemed players undraftable because of it.
"I don't think there's any connection there and to be honest with you, we don't view player acquisition as risks," coach Jason Garrett said. "We don't view this as a risk. We did our due diligence. We did our research on Greg Hardy. We evaluated him as a player, brought him in here, structured a contract in such a way that we think he can help our football team. If we don't think he's going to do that we can move on from him. That was a very important part of this contract, the structure of the contract."
Player acquisition is absolutely a risk. Teams don't truly know what they are getting in players despite how heavily they scout. Every team makes mistakes. The best teams at drafting miss a lot. One of the reasons teams will miss is they underrate or overvalue the character assessments.
Michigan defensive end Frank Clark was dismissed from the team last season after being charged with one count of misdemeanor domestic violence and one count of assault after an incident with his girlfriend. Randy Gregory reportedly failed a drug test at the NFL scouting combine that could affect his draft stock. There will be dozens if not more players with off-field transgressions.
The Cowboys have been more than willing to take a public relations hit for signing Hardy. They backed up their decision by talking about their due diligence, going back to Hardy's high school years through his time with the Carolina Panthers. They believe in second chances, they say. They believe a player has a right to return to football after being punished. They have let Joseph Randle stay with the team and re-signed Josh Brent after their legal issues.
Does there ever come a point where it's too much?
"There's no question that Jason [Garrett] wants a team that is made up of the finest character players and the finest talent that you can have," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said at the NFL owners meetings. "The real world is that you don't get all that. One of the things that we need to do at all times is be looking toward becoming a better football team. That's all of our jobs."