Spagnola: Hardy's Do-Right Suspension Reduction Creates Huge Sigh Of Relief

IRVING, Texas

Whew!*

         That had to be the Cowboys' reaction.

         Me, well, and probably yours, it's about time.

         And about time to do the right thing.

         Yet, count me surprised that NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson did do the right thing, Friday announcing the reduction of Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy's 10-game suspension for "conduct detrimental to the league" to a much more palatable and appropriate four games, some six weeks after hearing his appeal back on May 28.

         And please, understand I'm not minimizing whatever transgression Hardy was involved in last year in Charlotte, N.C., but the NFL, with the initial 10-game suspension, was putting itself in a very precarious position of becoming a much more punitive judge and jury than our legal and court systems. That, at least to me, becomes a slippery slope if the league suddenly thinks its investigative ability is much more efficient than the authorities whose fulltime job is to investigate and then prosecute these cases.

         See, the NFL suspended Hardy 10 games, not for domestic abuse, which is what he had been legally charged with, but hid under the guise of "conduct detrimental to the league." That is all-encompassing and allowed the NFL to hand out a punishment of its choice in the initial ruling. At the time of his legal case, the guideline for domestic abuse punishment was two games. That is not what the league charged him with.

         The punishment was almost as if the league said let's over-punish him to make a statement against domestic abuse and then let the appeals process or possibly court process reduce the suspension to what it should have been in the first place.

         So obviously, after much deliberation and probably some backroom teeth gnashing, the NFL came down with a much more reasonable punishment for a man who, legally in the end, was not convicted of anything. And OK, look, I understand Hardy's accuser, Nicki Holder, chose not to cooperate with authorities following the bench trial after reportedly reaching a financial settlement with Hardy, making prosecution virtually impossible in a jury trial. But what's overlooked is the district attorney could have pursued the case based on her bench-trial testimony. He chose not to, if you followed the case closely, based on testimony inconsistencies during the bench trial.

         So wiped off Hardy's record was the suspended 60-day suspended jail sentence and 18-month probation handed down in the bench trial after 11 hours of testimony. Wiped off the legal records, but not the NFL's. The league came down much harder than the judge's original 18-month probation.

         What's surprising is Henderson, the former league labor relations director whose neutrality had been previously challenged as an arbitrator by the NFLPA in the Adrian Peterson child-abuse appeal, actually acquiesced to the appeal. Had he not, Hardy's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and with the backing of the NFLPA, certainly would have gone to court in an attempt to drastically reduce the 10-game suspension, based on previous league suspension standards.[embeddedad0]

         And while Rosenhaus has said no decision had been made yet as of early Friday afternoon, there still would be the possibility of filing a court case to reduce the now four-game suspension down to two, which had been the punishment guideline before the league changed the rules following the Ray Rice case – but not before Hardy was charged in Charlotte while with the Carolina Panthers.

         Some would argue going to court is not worth it. But, a guy whose one-year, $11.3 million salary is largely based on the number of games he's on the Cowboys' 53-man roster might think otherwise. Remember, of that $11.3 million deal, $9.255 million of it is based on per-game incentive.

         So go ahead, do that math. Divide that by 16 and you get $578,437 per game. A four-game suspension costs Hardy roughly $2.3 million. A two-game suspension would end up being $1.16 million, still a considerable sum to the rest of us.

         We'll see.

         But in the meantime, the Cowboys now know that instead of getting Hardy back for the Nov. 26 Thanksgiving Day game against Carolina, he will instead return for the Oct. 11 game against New England at AT&T Stadium. And if I'm a betting man, just in time to face Tom Brady, whose appeal of his four-game suspension in the Deflategate fiasco that would have lasted through Game 4 vs. Dallas is expected to be announced real soon. (Anyone want to take odds on a three-game suspension followed by the Patriots bye week, giving Brady ample time to prepare for the Cowboys?)

         Still, for the pass-rush-deficit Cowboys of a year ago, a four-game Hardy suspension means he will miss facing Eli Manning, supposedly Sam Bradford (more importantly, though, DeMarco Murray), Matt Ryan and Drew Brees. But at least he's back in time to face Brady (if you're a betting man), Manning, Russell Wilson, Murray (smile), Jameis Winston, Ryan Tannehill, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin and Aaron Rodgers, if indeed that is judged as a quarterbacking Murders' Row.

         Plus, since Hardy will be eligible to practice in training camp and play preseason games, the length of his absence should not terribly erode his skills and conditioning as a 10-gamer would have. Maybe now he'll only need one week to prepare for a limited role in Game 5 instead of the couple of weeks it might have taken 11 weeks into the season.

         Oh, and not to worry about salary-cap implications of at least six less suspended games. When the Cowboys signed Hardy, before they even knew the length of his suspension, they built in the entire $9.233 million per-game total, even though their cap would be charged the $578,437 on a weekly basis.

         So the ruling doesn't mean the Cowboys absolutely have to sign Dez Bryant to a long-term deal, thus reducing his $12.823 million franchise tag by Wednesday, or need to shave some from Brandon Carr's $8 million base salary. They should be cool as is.

         This also means, if all goes well from a health standpoint, by some point during that first half of the season, the Cowboys front four should look like, from left to right, DeMarcus Lawrence, Nick Hayden, Tyrone Crawford and Hardy. That then will create a defensive end rotation with possibly Jeremy Mincey and Randy Gregory, the second-round draft choice. Training camp should decide the rest.

         This also raises the possibility of moving some of the defensive ends inside on nickel downs sooner rather than later, since during the offseason practices there were times Hardy and Mincey were rushing on the nickel as defensive tackles. The coaching staff thinks Lawrence could move inside on nickel downs, too. Conceivable the Cowboys' nickel front four eventually could be Lawrence, Crawford, Hardy and Gregory. Or if they want to give Crawford a blow from the heavy duty expected at the 3-technique defensive tackle spot, they could always use Mincey, Lawrence, Hardy and Gregory, with the likes of possibly Jack Crawford, Ben Gardner and Ryan Russell spotting in at times.

         Gotta like those possibilities to finally put adequate pressure on the quarterback, and maybe this time around if Rodgers just so happens to be playing on one leg again, he won't have free reign in the backfield.

         Man, no wonder that southerly wind out here mid-Friday afternoon increased to 16 mph. That was a lot of whewing going on.

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