Greg Hardy was the free agent with the greatest risk/reward on the open market this off-season. There’s a reason he’s only getting signed more than a week after free agency started, after most of the top edge rushers signed within the first 2-3 days. Given that, I like how this deal was structured. How was this deal structured? Well, there is nothing guaranteed, nothing due at signing, and the base salary is the minimum of 745K.
Of course, Hardy can earn much more than that. He can make 1.311 million for attending off-season workouts. He’ll make about an additional 578,500 per game that he’s on the roster. That’s particularly helpful for the Cowboys because Hardy is likely to be suspended. If he had been given a big signing bonus, the Cowboys would be paying him more per game if he got a big suspension.
All in all, Hardy can make about 11.3 million this season if he plays all 16 games and attends all off-seasons workouts, though he’s unlikely to play all 16 games. On top of that, there are fairly lucrative incentives for sacks. Hardy will make an additional 500K if he gets 8 sacks, 1 million if he gets 10 sacks, 1.4 million if he gets 12 sacks and 1.8 million if he gets 14+ sacks. If Hardy plays all 16 games and gets 14+ sacks, he can make about 13.1 million, though that’s going to be unlikely given that he’ll probably be suspended.
The Cowboys are also not allowed to franchise tag Hardy next off-season so, if he stays clean and puts up big numbers this season, he’ll be set for a big payday next off-season. I like that Hardy was willing to bet on himself and take this kind of a deal, rather than taking a long-term deal that gives him more upfront financial security, but pays him 70-80% of what he’s worth. It shows that Hardy trusts himself to stay clean. It would have raised an eyebrow for me if Hardy had been willing to sign a long-term deal this off-season.
Overall, it’s a fairly low risk deal for the Cowboys financially and a good match of player and team. The Cowboys need defensive end help and Hardy, when right, is one of the best defensive ends in football. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2013 and their 6th ranked in 2012 and he’s only going into his age 27 season. He’s obviously risky because of his off-the-field history, his looming suspension, and the fact that he could be rusty, having not played a game since week 1 of last season, but this deal handles that risk well. I can’t give this deal an A because the Cowboys take a PR hit by signing him, but, from a purely football standpoint, it’s a great deal.