Was signing Hardy a waste of time?

IRVING, Texas -- Unless the 10-game suspension defensive end Greg Hardy received Wednesday gets reduced, he will have missed 25 consecutive games by the time he plays for the Dallas Cowboys.


The Cowboys better hope Hardy's suspension gets knocked down to four or six games -- even eight games would be better than 10 -- because if Hardy doesn't make his debut until Thanksgiving Day against the Carolina Panthers, then signing him will have been a complete waste of time.

That's because he won't be the dynamic pass-rusher the Cowboys thought they were acquiring.

No player is going to miss that much time, return to the field and dominate against other elite athletes. You're lying to yourself if you think Hardy will be the exception.

Don't forget, he was placed on the commissioner's exempt list for the final 15 games of last season, which meant he couldn't practice with the Panthers. If his suspension is upheld, Hardy can participate in training camp with the Cowboys, but after that he won't be able to practice or attend meetings until the 11th week of the season.

As an example of how a lengthy suspension can affect a player's performance, let's look at San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who served a nine-game suspension at the start of last season.

During his first 43 games, Smith had 42 sacks and 135 tackles. In seven games last season, Smith had two sacks, 15 tackles and virtually no impact.

That's quite a drop-off.

And the Cowboys knew to expect some missed time for Hardy.

"This suspension is something that we anticipated prior to Greg's signing, and we respect the commissioner's ruling," Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said in a statement.

"Our organization understands the very serious nature of this matter. We will use our resources -- work closely with Greg and with the league -- to ensure a positive outcome."

That's all well and good, but there's no way the Cowboys figured the NFL was going to suspend Hardy for 10 games.

And no one knows how much, if at all, the suspension is going to get reduced. Hardy's representatives have argued that he shouldn't get more than two games, because the NFL had a different set of rules when he violated the personal conduct policy.

That makes sense, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was very specific in his letter to Hardy about four different times he allegedly used physical force against the victim he's accused of abusing. There's no guarantee the suspension gets reduced.

The Cowboys structured Hardy's contract to protect themselves, which was smart. Hardy earns nearly $600,000 for each week he's on the active roster as part of the one-year deal worth as much as $13 million that he signed.

The Cowboys signed Hardy because he's among the best pass-rushers in the NFL, and they needed help for their abject pass rush that totaled just 28 sacks last season. Hardy has 34 sacks in 63 career games, including 26 during the past two full seasons he played.

He's the type of impact player the Cowboys were counting on to help them make the playoffs. Hardy is the reason the Cowboys didn't mind letting defensive ends Anthony Spencer and George Selvie sign with other teams.

They need Hardy to make the playoffs. He's not a luxury.

If Hardy's suspension doesn't get reduced, the Cowboys must consider rethinking their approach to the draft. If Hardy were to miss four to six games, which many folks figured he would, then there would be no need to address the pass rush with a pick in the first two rounds.

But if Hardy is going to miss nearly two-thirds of the season, the Cowboys might be compelled to add a defensive end in the first round. Then again, the odds of finding a legitimate pass-rusher at the end of the first round who can make an impact as a rookie are less than slim.

The Cowboys also need a cornerback and a running back. They could opt to move out of the first round and add draft picks to ensure they add depth that way.

At least Goodell's decision came down before the draft, giving the Cowboys time to alter their draft strategy, if necessary.

That said, if Hardy's suspension doesn't get reduced to six games, no good options exist to replace him.