During his introductory press conference with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, new defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier sang the praises of adding an impact pass rusher to help run the kind of defense he and Lovie Smith hope to run in Tampa Bay.
And while the top of the 2014 NFL Draft offers plenty of options in the pass rush department, the free agent market has a potential grand prize at defensive end: Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers.
Hardy was a significant factor in a Carolina defense that dominated the NFL this season, joining the 49ers and Seahawks as elite NFC defenses capable of shutting down any offense.
Over his last two seasons, Hardy has 26 sacks, three passes defended and three fumbles forced from his defensive end position. No Buccaneer can compare to those numbers, and even combining the last two Buccaneer sack leaders (Michael Bennett and Gerald McCoy) falls short of Hardy’s production.
But will the Panthers’ sack master hit the open market? According to NFL.com, it’s a yes and a no.
The Panthers’ salary cap is in a bad place, and the GM admitted that openly when talking about Greg Hardy. The franchise tag is always an option, but it would cost an awful lot for a defensive end, and the Panthers would need to make some moves to free up the space to fill out their roster.
But Hardy has made no mistake that he wants to return to Carolina, and even said it would be an honor to be franchise tagged, rather than being upset by it like most stars usually are.
There’s no doubt that Hardy would be an incredible addition to the Tampa Bay defense, and it would be made even better by taking him from a division rival. But the Panthers will likely do everything they can to get Hardy back, and even if he hits the open market, there’s no promises that he comes to Tampa.
So it’s possible that “The Kraken” may dwell in Tampa Bay next season, but I wouldn’t call it a realistic chance.