It's the middle of August in a league that craves pass-rushers, and 28-year-old Greg Hardy can't find a job.
We all know why, of course, and it's tough to dig up a reason to feel bad for him. Hardy paved his own path to air-conditioned August NFL purgatory with a series of grievous missteps. A domestic violence incident for which he has remained disturbingly unrepentant in public. A volatile 2015 season with the Dallas Cowboys in which he openly feuded with coaches on the sideline, aggravated teammates with his attitude and mustered only six sacks in 12 games.
But at some point, the odds are, someone will sign Hardy.
"There is some substantial team interest in Greg," Drew Rosenhaus, Hardy's agent, said Tuesday. "I do believe he will be signed in the near future by either a team that suffers an injury on the defensive line or a club that realizes it simply needs more talent on the defensive front."
A fair bit of agent spin and overconfidence live in that statement, so do some significant truths. This time of year, the reality for any unemployed NFL player who wants to work is that someone will get injured in a practice or a preseason game and open a job that's not currently open. And the reality for a pass-rusher who had 15 sacks in his most recent full season -- even if that was three years ago -- is that plenty of teams are always looking for pass-rushers.
The Jacksonville Jaguars recently had Hardy in for a visit and an extensive workout. Sources familiar with their plans said they weren't looking to sign Hardy at this time but rather to get a sense of his conditioning -- to see how he sounded in person and looked on the field in case they were to suffer an injury or some other setback at defensive end and decided to look for external solutions.
After Junior Galette's latest season-ending injury, Washington discussed adding Hardy as well, but decided not to pursue him. At this point, the only team with which he has met face-to-face this offseason appears to be Jacksonville. Rosenhaus is doing the legwork trying to drum up interest from teams while Hardy works out in Davie, Florida, with NFL combine trainer Pete Bommarito.
So what will it take at this point? What kind of internal hurdles will a team's decision-makers have to clear in order to bring Hardy into the fold? Desperation is likely to drive the process, but it's clear from talking to NFL coaches and executives the past few weeks that teams have concerns that go beyond public relations.
"It's not what happened in his past," said one official whose team is not interested in Hardy. "It's the way he reacted last year to everything that happened in his past that would concern me. If he'd been a model citizen and played at a high level, he'd still be in Dallas."
But neither of those things occurred, and so a Cowboys team whose best two edge rushers are starting the season on drug suspensions has no interest in bringing him back. That says a lot -- especially to a league in which the Cowboys were the only team that seriously pursued him a year ago.
The Cowboys people to whom I spoke about Hardy want to move on and don't seem to bear him any ill will. But they said the issue with Hardy last year wasn't effort. They believe he played hard for them, in spite of the lackluster numbers. People close to the situation say they think Hardy's off-field baggage and the questions that lingered about his past became too great a distraction to allow him to focus effectively on football. Basically, everything that had gone on and was still going on in his life away from the field was preventing him from concentrating enough to play the way Dallas expected him to play on Sundays.
Has that changed? According to a May report by Pro Football Talk, Rosenhaus has spent a portion of this offseason informing NFL teams that Hardy has spent time in counseling sessions for anger management, temper management, domestic violence and evaluation for ADHD. The point of this is surely to try to convince teams the problems of 2015 won't resurface in 2016.
Rosenhaus and Hardy also make the point that the player was understandably rusty after missing the final 15 games of the 2014 season and the first four of 2015 due to suspensions, and that he could be expected to play better this year without such a layoff. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made a similar point in Hardy's defense when speaking to reporters at the combine in February.
So you begin to see the ways in which a team could convince itself that Hardy is worth both the gamble and the PR hit that would come with signing a player who's perceived by many as having been insufficiently punished for a frightening domestic violence incident.
And you look around and wonder who it could be. You look at teams that run a 4-3 defense, since Hardy seems to fit best as a traditional 4-3 defensive end. Jacksonville fits, as discussed earlier. Atlanta has been looking for pass-rush help, but it's possible that the Falcons' recent signing of Dwight Freeney takes them off this list. Detroit and New Orleans are pass-rush-hungry teams that run a 4-3.
Cleveland is a 3-4 team in the hunt for pass-rushers, and it's possible the Browns could fit Hardy into their scheme on the right deal. Buffalo is dealing with a couple of significant injuries in its front seven, and you know the coaches there aren't scared of anything.
You look at teams that have confidence in their programs and their leadership. It's possible a team like New England, which just lost Rob Ninkovich for several weeks due to injury and has a ton of capital built up with its fan base, could sell a Hardy signing as a potentially beneficial bargain -- especially if Hardy, as it's expected he must, signs a team-friendly deal packed with incentives.
You look at Cincinnati, a 4-3 team that has made the playoffs five years in a row but can't get out of the first round. The Bengals haven't shied away from difficult character cases in the past, because they know that's a good category in which to find bargains and because they believe in Marvin Lewis' ability to hold everything together.
The fact that a player of Hardy's age and ability is still sitting around in mid-August without a job says everything you need to know about the position in which he has put himself. But at some point, you have to think someone will give him another chance, in spite of everything. That's the way of the NFL world. Pass-rushers are always in demand, and someone's always going to get hurt.