PHOENIX– Given his often-cited preference for the "right kind of guy," it was logical that Cowboys coach Jason Garrett would swiftly be asked to address the addition of Greg Hardy to his football team.
It took just one day at the NFL's annual meeting for Garrett to address the issue head-on. Sitting down with several reporters at the Arizona Biltmore resort on Monday afternoon, the fifth-year head coach spoke for the first time about the high-profile signing, which sparked conversation and controversy across the NFL last week.
"We understand the seriousness of domestic violence. We obviously aren't for domestic violence, so let's get that out at the start," Garrett said. "If we didn't believe that Greg Hardy could become the right kind of guy, we would not have signed him."
That's been the debate since the news was announced on March 18. Hardy was convicted of assault and communicating threats toward his ex-girlfriend last summer, and he spent the 2014 season on the commissioner's exempt list before his charges were dropped last month.
Considering the NFL's problems with domestic violence in the past year, the Cowboys' decision to bring Hardy back into the league was met with plenty of criticism. As callous as that decision might seem, though, Garrett insisted it was anything but.
In the weeks leading up to free agency and the eventual signing, he said the Cowboys did extensive research in determining whether adding Hardy was worth the risk. That research included talking to the coaching staff with the Carolina Panthers, Hardy's old team, which brought back "positive recommendations" throughout the organization. It also involved delving into his college career at Ole Miss and even high school, as Garrett said Cowboys defensive assistant Turner West was a high school teammate of Hardy's at Briarcrest Christian School near Memphis, Tenn.
"We did a tremendous amount of work on him before he got there and then we literally spent two days with him talking about all of these different things and allowing him to share his story," Garrett said. "We asked a lot of questions and tried to get to the bottom of who he is."
The end result was a one-year contract with a maximum worth of $13 million. Garrett emphasized, however, that it was "line one" for the Cowboys to sign the defensive end to a contract that allowed them to part ways if need be. Hardy's contract is largely incentive and bonus based, with no guaranteed money and a base salary of just $745,000.
"We were not going to sign a contract where we didn't have that ability to hold him accountable," Garrett said. "We were not going to sign him to a contract where he was going to be guaranteed a lot of money, and, whatever happened, he was just going to be on our football team."
The deal allows for a pretty straightforward gameplan if this second chance doesn't work out. As much as the Cowboys might need help sacking the quarterback – they registered just 28 sacks as a team last year – Garrett said they won't hesitate to move on if they need to.
"We believe we've had success stories, and – again, we've had some situations where it didn't work out," he said. "We have to make our next-best decision for our football team, and in those cases we've moved on."
Times is going to tell whether Hardy becomes a success story or a footnote in franchise history. For all the criticism the Cowboys have taken, they still don't even know how much he'll be able to help them in 2015. Garrett said that, as of Monday, the NFL has yet to give an indication of how much it will discipline Hardy for his transgressions. But it is widely believed the 2013 Pro Bowler will receive a suspension at some point in the near future.
"People have told us it could come up here in the next couple of weeks, and some people have told us it could be later," Garrett said. "That's part of the equation when we make this decision – that we do anticipate some kind of discipline coming from the league, and we've got our arms around it."
In the meantime, the Cowboys will begin the process of gearing up to insert Hardy into the team culture. Garrett emphasized several times the need to create a helpful environment around him. Ultimately, though, Hardy himself will determine whether it was a defensible decision to bring him on board – whether he can in fact be the "right kind of guy."
"I believe he wants to be the right kind of guy. I believe he wants to see this as a new start in his life and embrace the environment that we're going to create, and we're going to hold him accountable," Garrett said. "I believe he's going to embrace that, and we're going to go forward. We're going to take it day by day and hopefully he can help our football team."