The Dallas Cowboys have 16 players set to become unrestricted free agents in March. In this series, we determine why a player should or should not return in 2016 and beyond.
Position: Defensive end
NFL experience: Six years
2015 salary: $750,000 (prorated over 12 games)
2015 statistics: After missing the first four games because of a suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, Hardy finished the season with six sacks and a team-high 32 quarterback pressures. The coaches credited him with 35 tackles but he had just two sacks in the final eight games of the season.
Why he will be back: The Cowboys will not have Randy Gregory for the first four weeks of the season because of a suspension. DeMarcus Lawrence is recovering from back surgery. The draft is not filled with top-end rushers. The Cowboys don’t figure to get into the deep-end of the free-agent pool to sign a difference-making pass rusher. Hardy’s price will be low because he was not dominant in 2015 and teams will be leery of him because of the baggage his signing would mean. Perhaps the Cowboys could look at him on another pay-as-you go deal.
Why he will not be back: He just wasn’t worth the hassle. The Cowboys used Charles Haley as an example of a success story in inheriting a trouble player elsewhere and having him flourish in their system. Haley helped deliver Super Bowl wins on teams. Hardy was part of a team that went 4-12 and 1-11 without Tony Romo. He was not able to sustain success, and being late for meetings and his disruptiveness wore on the coaches as the year went on even if Jason Garrett never took away playing time. It’s one thing to put up with issues when the individual has a great run of success; it’s another when the player was simply average. The Cowboys took a calculated risk on Hardy that did not work out.
Chance to return: Zero to low. With Jerry Jones involved you learn to never rule out anything, even if it has already been ruled out.