Cowboys signing analysis: Greg Hardy

Games watched: vs. Cowboys, Week 7, 2012; vs. Atlanta Falcons, Week 17, 2013; vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Week 1, 2014

Contract: One year, $11.3 million, no guaranteed money. He will make $1.3 million in an offseason workout bonus, $745,000 in base salary and up to $9.25 million in per-game roster bonuses. He also can make an extra $1.8 million in incentives.

What I saw: I chose the three games for a reason. I know the Cowboys the best and wanted to see how Greg Hardy stacked up against Tyron Smith, who was in his first year as a left tackle. Against Atlanta he had four sacks, a career high. The Tampa Bay game was the only one he played last year.

As Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said from the NFL owners meetings, Hardy plays all over the place. The Carolina Panthers used him mostly at right defensive end, but he also played left defensive end and at both defensive tackle spots. He also lined up in a two-point stance at times and would drop into coverage occasionally.

In the 2012 meeting, Smith wasn’t the Smith we know now and Hardy wasn’t the Hardy we know now. They were developing players. For the bulk of the 44 snaps, Smith won the matchup. Only twice by my count did Hardy get into Smith to where he was able to get some pressure on Tony Romo. He exposed his numbers a lot and Smith just locked his arms on him and shut him down. When he was able to get into Smith’s body, he demonstrated some good power. In his one snap vs. tight end James Hanna in the game, he beat him to the inside to make a nice play for a small gain in the run game, but he was not able to do much against Jason Witten.

He was a different player by the time the 2013 season finale rolled around against the Falcons. He was much better at turning power into speed, but to be sure, his main asset is power. He will not dazzle off the edge as a speed rusher. Two of his four sacks came with Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez trying to block him (a running back was teamed with Gonzalez on the second sack). He manhandled Gonzalez the first time and came underneath to drop Matt Ryan the first time. On the second one, he split an ineffective double-team.

He beat left tackle Lamar Holmes with a nifty jab step inside to get Holmes diving inside and went around the corner to get to Ryan. When he gets his foot by the tackle, he closes quickly. He lined up at defensive tackle for his final sack, beating Peter Konz by slapping away the lineman’s hands and pulling his way through.

Rod Marinelli wants to see hustle as much as anything. Hardy showed this a few times by tracking down plays across the field and sprinting to the ball. The Panthers had a first-round bye on the line against the Falcons, and Hardy was active.

In the last game against the Buccaneers, he was again moved around a lot. In his sack of Josh McCown, he beat a double-team of the tight end and left tackle by charging up the field and coming back inside fast to get to the quarterback. Tampa Bay left tackle Anthony Collins struggled early with Hardy and was soon receiving help. At one point, the tight end shoved him and the running back came in for a chip before he could engage with Collins. He never seemed frustrated by the attention.

In fact, the other players on the Panthers line were able to take advantage of the attention Hardy received. A safety came free on a delayed blitz because the guard and tackle had their eyes on Hardy. At one point he dropped in coverage almost as a spy on the quarterback.

How he fits: There is no question he gives the Cowboys something they didn’t have. There were several occasions when he lined up at three different spots on consecutive plays. It’s something I wonder the Cowboys will do a lot with him because of the versatility they will have with guys like Jeremy Mincey, Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence. The Cowboys needed a defender like this who will make the offense have to account for No. 76 on each play.

Good move: Clearly it’s a good move for the football team and this post is about the on-field help, not the off-field issues. The Cowboys didn’t have a bell-cow rusher last year. Hardy gives them that, but I do wonder if the expectations he will face will outweigh his productivity. If there is one word of caution here: He’s not DeMarcus Ware. Hardy has 26 sacks in his last two full seasons, but he does it completely differently than Ware. It’s a speed guy (Ware) vs. a power guy (Hardy).