Franchising Hardy a Risky Play by GM Gettleman


All it took was one Adam Schefter tweet for DeMaurice Smith and the players to breathe a sigh of relief.  The salary cap has officially been set at $133 million for the 2014 league year—a $10 million increase from 2013.  By 2016 the cap is projected be as high as $150 million.

I’m skeptical of reading into salary cap projections for future years simply because past “expert projections” have been inaccurate.  As recently as a couple of weeks ago industry experts were all but certain that the 2014 salary cap would be $130 million—$3 million less than what it ended up being.

In March 2012, ESPNs John Clayton wrote this article that contained the following:

After having flat caps of $120.375 million in 2011 and $120.6 million in 2012, the NFL management council told clubs Tuesday that the cap won’t increase much in the next three years. In fact, the 2015 cap may go up to only $122 million, according to management council projections.

For whatever reason (probably mostly due to the complex formula that makes up the salary cap), projecting the cap is not something that industry experts have done well in the past.

It’s not a coincidence that teams began using the franchise tag on the same day this announcement regarding an increased salary cap was made. The Saints tagged TE Jimmy Graham, the Jets tagged K Nick Folk, and the Panthers tagged DE Greg Hardy.

But franchising a Kicker is a common practice and the Saints really had no choice but to franchise Graham.  It’s Carolina’s tagging of Hardy that’s by far the most interesting move to me.

By slapping Hardy with the tag, Panthers GM Dave Gettleman is saying two things: that he truly believes the cap will continue to increase, and that there is nothing more important than rushing the passer.

The $13.1 million cost of tagging Hardy comprises the majority of Carolina’s 2014 free agent spending money. And Gettleman made this decision in spite of Charles Johnson, the Defensive End who plays opposite Hardy, carrying a $16,420,000 2014 cap hit that increases to $17,420,000 in 2015.  He did it despite franchise QB Cam Newton entering the final year of his rookie deal and despite the contract of reigning DPOY Luke Kuechly expiring after 2015.

Gettleman also made the decision to tag Hardy knowing that all four starters in Carolina’s secondary—Cornerback’s Captain Munnerlyn & Drayton Florence and Safety’s Quintin Mikell & Mike Mitchell—are current free agents.

Before Gettleman was hired as Panthers GM (in 2013), he spent the 14 years prior as a high-ranking official in the Giants front office. He helped build both the 2007 and 2011 teams that sacked their way to Super Bowl victories behind relentless defensive line play, so he knows how important that aspect of the game is.

But both those Giants teams were more complete than the current Panthers, specifically in terms of offensive talent. The Plaxico Burress/Amani Toomer tandem in ’07 and the Hakeem Nicks/Victor Cruz duo in ’11 were more talented than any of the Panthers’ playmakers, while Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs compare favorably to a declining Deangelo Williams and a constantly injured Jon Stewart.

I understand how difficult it is to let a player like Hardy walk in free agency.  A “homegrown” talent, the Panthers stole Hardy in the 6th round of the 2010 draft; he’s since developed into one of the game’s premier pass rushers. But the great front-office-men know how to build for both the present and the future. And sometimes doing so involves making tough decisions.

The Panthers—who had one of the leagues best defenses in 2013—still have plenty of holes to fill.  By committing so much money to Hardy, Gettleman may be setting the franchise up for failure in the coming years.

Andrew Cohen