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New York Giants potential free-agent target: Greg Hardy, DE, Carolina Panthers

Hardy remains on the commissioner's exempt list, but could soon be a free agent.

Greg Hardy
Greg Hardy
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Domestic violence charges against Greg Hardy were dismissed on Thursday, Hardy's accuser having vanished. The Charlotte Observer reports that the Panthers are not expected to try to retain the talented free-agent defensive end.

Let me be clear here. I am not going to recommend the idea of signing Hardy. Nor am I going to completely reject it. And in no way is this meant to be about the atrocity that is domestic violence, or to judge Hardy's guilt or innocence. It is simply meant to lay out the facts and give you an avenue to discuss the merits of a player who will apparently be available on the free-agent market next month.

On the field

Hardy, 6-foot-4, 280 pounds, has 27 quarterbacks sacks in his last 32 NFL games. In 2013 he was the second-rated 4-3 defensive end in the NFL, according to Pro Football focus, with a +25.6 grade. In addition to his 15 sacks, he had a monumental +19.3 score vs. the run. In 2012, Hardy had a +17.0 PFF grade (+14.7 vs. the run) and 11 sacks.

He will be 27 years old, and is obviously a tremendous player. In a vacuum, ignoring all of the off-the-field issues, every team would love to have a player with Hardy's ability.

The Giants have Jason Pierre-Paul heading to free agency. If they are unable to retain Pierre-Paul they will need to replace him somehow. Skill-set wise, Hardy could do that. Even if the Giants re-sign Pierre-Paul, a player of Hardy's caliber certainly would be a nice bookend for JPP and a nice piece for new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

Off the field

Of course, personnel decisions cannot -- and are not -- made in a vacuum. Off-the-field stuff cannot be ignored. The charges against Hardly led to his spending all but one game in 2014 on the commissioner's exempt list. That means he earned his $13.1 million salary for playing in one game.

Even though the charges have been dropped, reports that Hardy remains on the exempt list, with NFL spokseman Greg Aiello saying "His status remains unchanged until we fully review the matter."

That, of course, means that Hardy could still face discipline from the league, which is of course much more sensitive now to the issue of domestic violence in the wake of its botched handling of the Ray Rice situation.

As ESPNW's Jane McManus has pointed out, Hardy's case is far from over and his path back to the NFL remains unclear:

Does any of this disappear just because Hardy may have paid for the victim's silence? Would Holder have any reason to be afraid of him if she didn't comply with his wishes that the case be settled? After the education that the NFL has been getting -- and distributing to its players -- it should be abundantly clear that victims of domestic violence don't always behave in a convenient way, or in a way that makes it easy to prosecute the perpetrators.

If Hardy is innocent of charges, of course you'd want the NFL to be able to determine that as well. He spent nearly a season on the commissioner's exempt list, being paid his $13.1 million while he sat for the last 15 games of the season. The NFL has a vested interest in making sure that innocent men aren't unfairly penalized.

But if Hardy is guilty, as a bench trial found, and he then paid the victim to go into hiding so the charges were dropped -- how can the new NFL ignore this? If he beat and threatened to kill Holder, then tried to frame her in the 911 call, how can writing a check make it all disappear? If it does, then the NFL can't really say that it has changed at all.

Any potential suspension by the NFL, as well as the current climate in the league toward the domestic violence issue, willweigh heavily on Hardy's opportunities with a new team.

Of course, someone will sign him

Current climate or not, there will be teams wanting to sign Hardy. Players with his skills, especially ones who are only 27 years old, don't hit the market every day. Talent ALWAYS gets a second chance in the NFL -- sometimes several second chances.

NFL analysts told the Observer as much in comments made prior to the news that the charges were being dropped:

Ex-GM Bill Polian:

"It's foolish to think that someone won't (sign Hardy), assuming a not-guilty verdict," said former Panthers general manager Bill Polian, now an ESPN analyst. "But it's also foolish to think there won't be ramifications to it."

Ex-agent Joel Corry:

"I think the only reason Ray Rice didn't have a job last year was because he averaged a little over three yards a carry (3.1) in 2013. If he averaged 5 yards a carry, somebody probably signs him and bites the bullet and worries about what happens later," Corry said.

"Hardy's going to get more of the benefit of the doubt just because he's a Pro Bowl-caliber player in his prime. So that's going to tip the scales for some owners that (think), I know you've got issues, but this guy can really play. If he couldn't really play, he might be out of the league."

Should, or could, that someone be the Giants? We know that over the past couple of seasons the Giants have focused on bringing in high-character players, going so far as to draft all collegiate team captains in 2014. After several chances, the Giants finally cut ties with the talented Will Hill prior to last season. They did, however, take a chance on John Jerry, who had been involved in the Jonathan Martin bullying scandal.

Final Thoughts

As I said above, I'm not taking a side one way or the other. I am just putting the question in front of you for your own debate.