IRVING, Texas -- It took longer than anybody could have expected, but arbitrator Harold Henderson’s decision Friday to reduce Greg Hardy's suspension from 10 games to four is the best possible outcome for the Dallas Cowboys.
Anybody claiming victory, however, should tread lightly because of what happened that night between Hardy and his then-girlfriend, Nicole Holder, even if the case eventually was thrown out of court because of Holder’s refusal to cooperate with the district attorney.
But from a football perspective, this helps the Cowboys.
Hardy’s initial 10-game suspension was almost like an 11-game suspension because of the short week between playing the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 22 and the Thanksgiving meeting against Hardy’s previous team, the Carolina Panthers. It would have been nearly impossible for him to get ready to play for a large number of snaps after 10 weeks of inactivity, with three light days of practice before playing.
The Cowboys signed Hardy this spring knowing there would be punishment for his actions that led him to being placed on the commissioner’s exempt list last season. To some, 10 games might have been too much, but publicly, the Cowboys said they trusted commissioner Roger Goodell’s judgment. Privately, they wondered if they would get much impact from Hardy in six games.
Now they get at least 12 games to see what he can do. Hardy could continue to press the case via the court system if he chooses to seek further reduction of the suspension.
Owner Jerry Jones, director of player personnel Stephen Jones, coach Jason Garrett, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and teammates praised Hardy’s work in the offseason. Jerry Jones said Hardy’s work ethic was contagious. Garrett and Marinelli appreciated the effort he showed on and off the field.
He gives the Cowboys something they don’t have: a true pass-rushing threat. Jeremy Mincey might have led the Cowboys with six sacks last sesaon, but he doesn’t create a mismatch the way Hardy does. They like the potential of DeMarcus Lawrence and rookie Randy Gregory, but they have yet to prove what they can do at this level.
Hardy has 27 sacks in his past 32 games. The Cowboys had 28 sacks last season as a team.
Hardy will now be eligible to play in four of the six games against NFC East foes -- a game each against the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, and both contests against the Washington Redskins.
Instead of missing games against Eli Manning (twice), Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Tom Brady (perhaps), Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston and Ryan Tannehill, he will miss just one game against Manning, Ryan and Brees. He could see Brady on Oct. 11 if the New England Patriots quarterback has his Deflategate-related suspension reduced by Goodell.
Hardy won’t be the only starter the Cowboys welcome back on Oct. 11. Rolando McClain is eligible to return that week from a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Having their best pass-rusher (Hardy) and their most productive defender in 2014 (McClain) return would be a boost to a defense that was respectable but patchwork last season. Add that to Sean Lee's return from a knee injury that cost him the 2014 season, and it all could change the dynamic of the Cowboys.
No longer would they need the offense to shoulder most of the burden the way it did last season.
That’s why the reduction to four games is such a win for the Cowboys on the field.