Love him or hate him you gotta give Jerry Jones this – he knows how to grab headlines. It had to be killing him the last 10 days or so of player free agency and the biggest news coming out of Valley Ranch was that DeMarco Murray was leaving the Cowboys and heading to the City of Brotherly Shove. So what does Jerry do to re-balance the publicity scales? He goes out and signs the most controversial free agent on the market.
In case you missed it, the Cowboys announced on Wednesday the signing of former Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy. And in case you aren’t familiar with the back-story on Mr. Hardy, here’s the Reader’s Digest version:
On May 13, 2014, the 6 foot 4 inch, 275 pound Hardy was arrested and charged with assaulting and threatening to kill his former girlfriend, Nicole Holder. The violent acts he was charged with included choking her, dragging her through an apartment, throwing her into a bathroom and then onto a futon stacked with semi-automatic rifles and shotguns (he subsequently was ordered by the court to surrender all ten weapons).
The case went to trial in front of Mecklenburg County Judge Rebecca Thorn-Tin Holder on July 15, 2014. During testimony, Holder said she didn’t immediately give police a statement out of fear of retribution. “He had told me in the past if I took food out of his family’s mouth he was going to kill me.” She described Hardy as jealous and controlling, mentioning several times that Hardy didn’t allow her do some things because he often paid her rent. “He looked me in my eyes and he told me he was going to kill me,” said Holder about the night in question. “I was so scared I wanted to die. When he loosened his grip (from around her throat) slightly, I said just, Do it. Kill me.”
Hardy, in his testimony, said the accuser became angry when he denied her sex, and left the room to sleep in the living room. He said she then became angry and started slamming doors and asked him, “Do you want to see crazy? I’ll show you crazy.” Hardy said she threw herself into the bathtub, causing all the bruises she had on her body. Hardy said she also threatened to kill herself, but he didn’t touch her.
Judge Thorn-Tin, however, believed the testimony of Holder and the prosecution’s other top witness, Christina Lawrence, another woman who was in Hardy’s apartment at the time of the incident. Lawrence said she was sleeping in the other room with a friend of Hardy’s when she heard scuffling and fighting and what sounded like a woman being slammed into the wall and dragged across the floor. She said she also heard Holder say, “What are you going to do, break my arm?”
After nearly 11 hours of hearing testimony, Judge Thorn-Tin told Hardy and his attorneys that “The court is entirely convinced Hardy is guilty of assault on a female and communicating threats.” Hardy was convicted of the charges and sentenced to 18 months probation and a suspended 60-day jail sentence.
Hardy’s attorney’s then did what they are handsomely paid to do and appealed the decision, asking for a jury trial in superior court, something the laws in North Carolina allow for (legalities I’m not familiar with enough to comment on here), which meant Hardy’s terms of conviction were put on hold and he was free to go about his business, which meant Panthers training camp. He was, however, placed on the NFL’s inactive list before the 2nd regular season game by Roger Goodell, then subsequently the commissioner’s exempt list before the third game of the season, as the league was sorting though his charges as well as the mess that Ray Rice had dumped in their laps. For those who aren’t familiar, the exempt lists means although suspended from play, Hardy still received his weekly paychecks for his $13.1 annual million salary from the Panthers.
Then on February 9th of this year, right before the jury trial was to commence, prosecutors had no choice but to dismiss all charges against Hardy because Holder couldn’t be located. Mecklenburg County district attorney Andrew Murray told Superior Court Judge Robert T. Sumner that law enforcement had taken “extraordinary” measures to find the accuser so that she could testify during the appeal. He said they took surveillance of her new address, attempted to find her at work and tried to contact relatives but couldn’t locate her. Murray said the woman had settled her civil suit against Hardy and was refusing to cooperate after receiving a financial payment from him. In a nutshell, he paid her off.
Lovely story eh?
On the football side of things, Greg Hardy has been a force since entering the league out of Ole Miss in 2010. Selected by Carolina in the 6th round, Hardy led the Panthers with 15 sacks in 2013 (tying a franchise record), was a Pro Bowl selection, and was a key member of the Panthers 2nd ranked defense. Basically a player that the Cowboys, or any NFL team, would covet notwithstanding his off the field issues. So Jerry signed him to a low risk one-year contract with a $750,00 base pay and no guaranteed money, but with incentives that could raise the total to over $13 million if he plays every game and performs well.
Since Hardy is still on the exempt list, however, and the league has yet to come down with a ruling on his eligibility, there’s no guarantee as to when he might actually suit up for the Boys. Based on what has transpired over the past year in the NFL my guess is that Hardy will be suspended for a minimum 6-8 games, without pay, for this upcoming season. But that’s just a guess. NFL rules now demand an automatic 6 game suspension for a first incident of domestic abuse, and a lifetime ban for a 2nd occurrence. This isn’t “slap on the wrist” time any more when it comes to off the field violence in the NFL, but there is a grey area that comes into play here. The counter argument to a long suspension in 2015 for Hardy is that he has already been made to miss 15 games in 2014. But since he still received fifteen of his sixteen $820,00 a week paychecks, the validity of that argument is questionable. But that will be up to Roger Goodell and his $846,00 weekly paycheck to decide (how’s everyone feeling about their own paychecks right now?).
Jerry Jones, never for a loss of words, issued this statement after the signing:
“This is a one-year agreement that is incentive based and heavily weighted toward his participation in games. We have spent a great deal of time over the last two days in meeting with Greg directly and gaining a solid understanding of what he is all about as a person and as a football player. A thorough background review of him, involving many elements of our organization, has been ongoing for the last few weeks. Obviously a great deal of our study was dedicated to the issue of domestic violence, and the recent events that associated Greg with that issue. We know that Greg’s status remains under review by the National Football League. Our organization understands the very serious nature of domestic violence in our society and in our league. We know that Greg has a firm understanding of those issues as well.”
C’mon Jerry. No one believes for a second that his character and checkered past received any consideration beyond the fact you were able to get him to sign a base minimum contract because of it. If it did, he simply wouldn’t be a Cowboy today. Like it or not issues like domestic abuse don’t come in to play when the Cowboys are making “football” decisions – no more than shoplifting cologne and underwear, testing positive for drug use, or even killing a teammate while driving drunk has mattered recently at Valley Ranch. Its wins and losses that count (and handing out hi-fives to Governor Chris Christie).
But is Jerry fundamentally any different than the other 31 general mangers (or owners for that matter) in the league? After all, isn’t it ultimately the GM’s job to just put the best team possible on the field, and shouldn’t those in the league office be the ones managing the scales of justice and handing down the sentences? Well, in this case it seems that he actually is standing alone. Carolina didn’t want their star player back, and the only other team rumored to be considering him, Tampa Bay, bowed out after a brief flirtation.
The bottom line is that if Hardy is allowed to play football this season for the Cowboys, they immediately become a better team than they were just three days ago. And you won’t convince me that if Hardy plays and plays well, he won’t be cheered by all 90,000 packed into AT&T Stadium each and every weekend. Fans, when it’s all said and done, really only care about wins and losses too.
But to me it still doesn’t feel right. But then again I’m not looking for Jerry Jones to be my moral compass, and hopefully you aren’t either (or you probably have some issues of your own). I can’t help but wonder if the woman who was assaulted happened to be a friend or a member of the Jones family, how Jerry would have responded to the situation. I find it hard to believe Jones and Hardy would have been sitting side by side sharing smiles as they were on Wednesday.
But hey, it’s all about winning, which is why Jerry is trying to figure out a way to get Adrian Peterson in the silver and blue for next year too. And if he manages that, why not go for the physical abuse trifecta of domestic, child and animal abuse? After all Michael Vick is a free agent and they could certainly use a little help in the backup QB role….