PHOENIX – The NFL turned its attention to the Cowboys and their contract with Greg Hardy on Wednesday, offering some league wide perspective on the controversial signing to close the NFL annual meetings.
The day's activities began with the NFC coaches' breakfast, in which outlets from across the NFL landscape grilled Cowboys coach Jason Garrett on the intricacies and rationale of signing Hardy. As the three days of meetings adjourned, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell punctuated the affair with some thoughts on his timetable for disciplining the Pro Bowl defensive end.
"We are trying to get as many facts as we possibly can to make the most informed decision we can, so that we can uphold the standards that we put forward in our personal conduct policy," Goodell said. "I expect that that will conclude sometime in the near future, and we'll make a decision shortly after."
That decision pertains to the most hotly-discussed aspect of Hardy's signing, which is the 2014 assault charge that landed him on the commissioner's exempt list for 15 games last season. The charges for
assault and communicating threats to his then-girlfriend were dropped in February, though the Cowboys still expect further discipline from the league office.
"You can look at the precedence of different punishments they've levied over the last couple of years to give you a little bit of a guide," Garrett said. "We've had conversations with the league about it. But again, we don't know when it's going to happen and we don't know the extent of the punishment."
For the time being, Garrett said he expects Hardy will be available to participate in the offseason program, as well as training camp – though that is subject to change.
Regardless of upcoming discipline, though, Hardy isn't going to reach the playing field without plenty more scrutiny of the decision – at both a coaching and front office level. Garrett fielded upward of 20 questions about Hardy on Wednesday morning, many of them aimed at why he felt comfortable hiring such a troubled player.
"We spent a lot of time talking to people we know and trust. So that was the starting point," he said. "That's what gave us the opportunity to bring him in in the first place. Then we just spent a lot of time talking to him. I spoke with him for probably 2-3 hours myself."
That interview process extended from Garrett to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, as well as the rest of the Cowboys coaching staff. As Garrett explained on Monday, he covered the scope of Hardy's football career, beginning in high school and leading up to those assault charges.
"He was very honest and direct about different things that happened in his life, at all different levels. So I appreciated that," he said. "It was his impression, it was his perspective, but I do think we had a good back and forth. I challenged him on a number of different things. I thought he responded well to that."
Among the people the Cowboys talked to, both before and after the signing, was Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who coached Hardy from 2011-14. Rivera has a close relationship with Marinelli, and Garrett said the Cowboys received "positive recommendations" throughout the Carolina organization.
Rivera was reluctant to disclose any conversations he'd had about Hardy on Wednesday morning, but he wished him well.
"I'm not going to get into that portion of it, but the biggest thing is he's a Dallas Cowboy right now and I'm happy for Greg," Rivera said. "He was a solid football player for us, he did a great job for us. Now he's got an opportunity to move on."
None of this is going to ease every concern about Hardy, and the Cowboys don't expect it to. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Tuesday that "people have varying degrees of when redemption should occur," and he added that he respects opposing opinion on the matter.
As he was earlier this week, Garrett was emphatic Wednesday that the structure of the contract – with nothing in the way of guarantees – was a crucial element to the decision.
"The conditions of the contract were important. No guaranteed money, earn it every step of the way," he said. "At any point, if we don't feel like you're doing what we want you to do as a player and as a person, we can move on from you without any salary-cap consequence. All those things are very important to us."
After the NFL tends to any further disciplinary action, that leaves the ball very much in Hardy's court. Having spent so much time researching the player, and having spent the week dissecting the decision, Garrett sounded confident it was a good one.
"He's an intense person. I think he cares a great deal about football. I think he wants to be the right kind of guy and what we're going to do is we're going to try to approach this thing on a day-by-day basis," he said. "I think he understands that. I think he wants to have a clean slate in Dallas. He wants to respond to the environment we're going to create for him and we're going to make sure he does it day, by day, by day."