The Dallas Cowboys made their big play in free agency with defensive end Greg Hardy. Now they wait to see how soon the former Carolina player will boost their mediocre pass rush.
With Hardy facing a league suspension for violating the NFL's domestic conduct policy, the team signed him Wednesday to a one-year deal valued at up to $13.1 million if he meets incentives. A person with knowledge of the contract provided details on condition of anonymity because terms were not announced.
Hardy played just one game last season because he was placed on the commissioner's exempt list after a judge in North Carolina convicted him on domestic violence charges.
The case was thrown out on appeal when Hardy's accuser couldn't be located to testify, and the NFL filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking evidence from the trial. League spokesman Greg Aiello said Hardy's status was still “being reviewed for potential discipline.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the contract was “heavily weighted toward his participation in games” after the team spent weeks researching Hardy's background.
“Obviously a great deal of our study was dedicated to the issue of domestic violence, and the recent events that associated Greg with that issue,” Jones said. “Our organization understands the very serious nature of domestic violence in our society and in our league. We know that Greg has a firm understanding of those issues as well.”
The league is seeking evidence from Hardy's case through North Carolina's open records laws after prosecutors refused to release anything. His ex-girlfriend testified that Hardy threw her in a bathroom and onto a futon filled with guns and threatened to kill her.
Hardy denied the allegations in his testimony, and prosecutors say he reached a civil suit agreement with the accuser.
Without evidence from the trial, it could be difficult for the NFL to enforce a tougher personal-conduct policy approved by owners after Hardy's conviction. First-time violations involving assault, sexual assault and domestic violence can result in six-game suspensions. Previously, first-time offenders typically received two-game bans.
The 26-year-old Hardy tied a Carolina club record with 15 sacks in 2013, and made $13.1 million on the franchise tag last season despite playing just one game.
He tweeted a picture of the Dallas skyline Wednesday and wrote, “My new city baby … can't wait to show out for my old and new fans.”
“We have spent a great deal of time over the last two days in meeting with Greg directly and gaining a solid understanding of what he is all about as a person and as a football player,” Jones said.
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound Hardy, a sixth-round pick by the Panthers in 2010, had 26 sacks over two seasons before his legal troubles arose. He had 194 tackles and 33 sacks in his first four seasons.
The Cowboys were 28th in the NFL in sacks with 28 last year. Jeremy Mincey, a low-cost defensive end added in free agency last year, led Dallas with six sacks and is returning. Tackle Henry Melton, who had five sacks despite battling injuries, signed with Tampa Bay.
Dallas moved up in the second round of the 2014 draft to grab DeMarcus Lawrence after cutting franchise sacks leader DeMarcus Ware in a salary cap move. But Lawrence missed the first half of the season after breaking his foot in training camp.
“This agreement involved an important element of our defensive scheme, specifically the pass rush, at a position that we felt we needed to address this offseason,” Jones said. “Greg is a proven and experienced player whose production has allowed him to play at a Pro Bowl level.”
It's the second time in four years the Cowboys made a big move for their defense in free agency. They added cornerback Brandon Carr on a $50 million deal in 2012, and could release him if he doesn't accept a pay cut after going without an interception for the first time in his seven-year career.
The Cowboys also hope to re-sign linebacker Rolando McClain, a former top 10 pick by Oakland who returned after a year away from the game to have a solid first season in Dallas.