IRVING, Texas – If the Cowboys made ripples during the first week of free agency, they followed with a splash Wednesday afternoon. The latest addition to the roster, Greg Hardy, comes to Dallas with 27 sacks in his last 32 games and a Pro Bowl nod in 2013.
It's a big step for the Cowboys' prospects in 2015, but it's not necessarily a franchise-altering move in the long-term. The contract is a one-year deal with no guarantees. It will pay Hardy a base salary of $745,000 with per-game bonuses of $578,437 for each week he plays.
That's an interesting fact, largely because Hardy still faces the possibility of NFL disciplinary action as a result of the assault charges against him that were recently dismissed. If Hardy is handed a lengthy suspension by the league, or if he's unable to play for other reasons, the Cowboys stand to save substantially.
So for the time being, the Cowboys have added a Pro Bowler-caliber defensive end to their front. If he plays at the level the team is hoping for, he can count for as much as $13 million toward the salary cap –an expense that will roll over to next year.
For now, Hardy is an elite pass rusher the Cowboys can team with the duo of Jeremy Mincey and DeMarcus Lawrence. It seems like a safe bet they'll either draft another defensive end or sign a cheap veteran to fill out a two-man rotation on both the right and left side.
The interior of the Dallas line is currently manned by Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain and Josh Brent. Young prospects like Chris Whaley, Davon Coleman and Ken Bishop are hanging around and could help fill that rotation, or the Cowboys could also turn to the draft.
They key aspect of this is that Hardy satisfies one of their biggest needs before the draft has even begun. Even if he is suspended, Hardy should be able to contribute greatly to the pass rush, which takes the pressure off the Cowboys to find an immediate difference-maker early in the draft – much like they did last spring, when they traded away the 78th overall pick to move up and acquire Lawrence.
Not that there aren't needs. As has been mentioned above, the Cowboys could still use some more help at both defensive end and defensive tackle. A quality cornerback could make a world of difference if taken early in the draft. Linebacker remains a questionable spot, despite the additions of Keith Rivers, Andrew Gachkar and Jasper Brinkley.
And of course there's still running back, which Dallas may well decide to address in the draft, despite inking Darren McFadden to help replace DeMarco Murray last week.
With an elite pass rusher added to the roster, though, there's far less pressure. The Cowboys should feel much more comfortable allowing the draft to develop, and then selecting whoever best improves the team, regardless of what position.
That's the way perennial late-round picks, like New England and Green Bay, tend to operate. The decision to sign Greg Hardy should allow the Cowboys to employ a similar mindset with their No. 27 pick – not to mention the picks that come after.