Spagnola: Now Let's Take Some Time To Dig Deep Into The Hardy Signing

IRVING, Texas – Enough. Enough vitriol over the signing of Greg Hardy.

         Think we need a T.O., baby. A full. Don't even think of a 30. A whole bunch of people on their high horse need more time to take a breath.

         OK now, deep breath. Slowly exhale. Again.

         Now then, can we cut the hysteria and talk rationally? Can we act like we are a civilized society, leaving the woebegone days of vigilante justice in the streets where popular opinion served as our judge and jury?

         Good.

         Look, I get it. Hardy is no angel. If he had been, he'd still be with the Carolina Panthers. No way his skills for sacking quarterbacks from the defensive end position would have been available to the Dallas Cowboys, certainly desperately looking for someone to consistently put quarterbacks on their (ahem), like averaging at least one a game – something the Cowboys haven't enjoyed since DeMarcus Ware finished with 19.5 in 2011. Since, they've not had anyone register more than 11.5 sacks in a season, and were saddled with a team-leading low of six this past year when the Cowboys' overall total of 28 finished 28th in the NFL.

         Ended up being their Achilles heel in the bitter, Green Bay cold.

         So instead of painting this whole ordeal – and Hardy – with a roller, let's just for a minute brush this case with fact. That's all, just fact, and then you decide.

         First, none of us are capable of getting to the bottom of one of these he-said, she-said affairs.

         Secondly, while it's been widely reported Hardy was "convicted" of domestic assault and communicating threats to his one-time girlfriend in a bench trial conducted by Mecklenburg County District Court Judge Becky Thorne Tin back in July 2014, this a legal process where defense attorneys are not allowed to question evidence, witnesses or the victim. Judge Tin, after an exhaustive 10-hour court session, solely sentenced Hardy to a 60-day suspended jail sentence and 18 months of probation.

         His offense was classified as a "misdemeanor." For comparison, misdemeanors, among other things, include public intoxication, possession of marijuana and theft, like if you run out of a department store with underwear you didn't pay for. Seemingly a stern paddling compared to this recent outcry.

         Under North Carolina law, appealing such a ruling from a "bench" trial grants you the right to a jury trial. Hardy's attorney appealed rather than accept the 18 months of probation, which, in essence would have been an admission of guilt. The trial was scheduled for November and then pushed back until Feb. 9.

         In turn, the NFL, in no-man's land and on the heels of the Ray Rice fiasco, decided to remain in limbo, placing Hardy on what we've since learned even existed, the commissioner's exempt list, the second week of the season. While he was paid his weekly sum for having signed the $13 million franchise tag, he never played again after the season opener.

         And sometime in between then and Feb. 9, Hardy and his ex-girlfriend, Nicole Holder, came to a civil settlement. The prosecutors informed Superior Court Judge Robert Sumner on the Feb. 9 day of the trial that Holder evidently accepted an undetermined amount of money not to pursue the case, and subsequently had quit cooperating with the DA's office. They also informed the judge that day they could not locate Holder after an extensive search and would not proceed prosecuting the case.

         In minutes, the judge dismissed the case, meaning the previous misdemeanor conviction was vacated, legally exonerating Hardy though not implying he was innocent.

         This, though, is an interesting passage in The Charlotte Observer from Feb. 9, 2015, and then updated on the 15th, sort of a legal lesson for all of us:

         Victims and witnesses routinely stop cooperating in domestic-abuse cases and prosecutors still take the cases to court. (DA Andrew) Murray, though, said the Hardy case was different. He also appeared to raise doubts about Holder's credibility in a statement to the judge … and only recently had (prosecutors) compared what Holder told police the night of the alleged assault with her testimony at Hardy's first trial.

         Notice, The Observer used a journalism school term, alleged, one of the first words we were taught in News-Ed 101, for real.

         Then there was this passage: Several legal experts around town speculated that prosecutors spotted inconsistencies that prevented them from building their case around Holder's former accounts. To enter an unavailable witness's prior testimony and statements as evidence, prosecutors have "to vouch" for its truthfulness, said Charlotte defense attorney George Laughrun.

         Now, unfortunately for the NFL, it is having to sift through what the court system once again struggled with before deciding if Hardy should be suspended, and if so, for how long. Already the NFL has hit a stumbling block since the league is filing suit for the Mecklenburg DA's office to release evidence and testimony from the original trial.

         Lots of gray area, and that is why the Cowboys structured Hardy's one-year contract to account for just that. And here, too, are the facts of that contract.

         No guaranteed money – no signing bonus or any portion of base salary.

         The 2014 salary cap hit is $3.213 million, including a $745,000 base salary, a $1.31 million workout bonus that has to be earned and a $1.156 million roster bonus if he makes the 53-man roster.

         While this can be a one-year, as much as a $11.3 million contract, there is $9.255 million tied up in per-game bonuses that will be paid thusly: $578,437 for every week Hardy is on the 53-man roster. Meaning, slapped with, say, a four-game suspension, Hardy would be docked $2.313 million from that $9.255 million figure. Also, the salary cap is charged weekly, so that money has to be available.

         As for the $13.1 million figure: That's the most he can make if he hits the highest performance bonus, which is $1.8 million for 14 sacks. This though, is charged to the 2016 cap, classified as an unlikely to be earned bonus since none of the bonus levels listed were achieved the previous season.

         Also, no franchise-tag designation was negotiated into the deal, which seems to have angered those in favor of the Cowboys having signed Hardy. But that is the price for no guaranteed money being included in the contract and for only having offered the one-year deal. Both sides have an out, for better or for worse, Hardy only obligated to a one-year contract and the Cowboys able to cut ties with the player for whatever reason without carrying over a huge cap penalty into the following season for guaranteed money.

         There you go. Those are the facts, legal and financial.

         Someone asked me this week how I would have felt about Hardy if another team had signed him. My response was, I probably would not have researched some of this background information in his legal case that would have allowed me to form a more educated opinion. Might not even have considered the inner workings of this very conservatively-structured contract.

         Just know the Cowboys did not enter into this agreement cavalierly or recklessly. There was a lot of weighing the competitive pros and the public backlash cons. They did their due diligence into the case, into Hardy's background, and even at that aren't totally sure themselves how the NFL will handle his availability. They, too, must wait and see.

         And since this contract isn't long term or laced with guaranteed money, that tells me the Cowboys themselves are taking a wait-and-see approach with Hardy.

         Know this, too: The Cowboys would not have gone down this road if the entire operation didn't think Hardy potentially was a supreme difference maker, and as owner Jerry Jones pointed out after the signing, to the comparable level of what a quarterback can mean to a team. And also know not overspending to re-sign DeMarco Murray has allowed the Cowboys to earmark these dollars for Hardy.

         Plain and simple, the Cowboys needed a serious upgrade to their pass rush, and they are not too proud to admit so, otherwise they would not have taken on this raging backlash. There was not a pass rusher of this caliber in free agency. In fact, one ranking site had Hardy the 14th best free agent and the second-highest non-franchised defensive end, the potential of a suspension likely preventing him from being the No. 1 DE and a top-10 free agent.

         Did the Cowboys go out on a limb? You bet they did, and at the moment that limb is sagging.

         And Hardy has been told because of that, now is the time for him to uphold his end of the bargain, and then some … on and off the field.

         Them are the facts in this case.

         Now, we see how it all plays out.

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