DE Greg Hardy receives franchise tag from Panthers

US PRESSWIRE

Carolina has slapped the tag on Hardy, who was one of the most productive players in the league last season.

The Carolina Panthers have placed the franchise tag on defensive end Greg Hardyaccording to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.

Hardy, 25, is coming off his best year in the NFL with 15 sacks, good for third in the NFL behind Robert Mathis and Robert Quinn of the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams respectively. By being franchised, the Panthers are willing to pay Hardy the average of the top five salaries at his position, which translates to around $12 million for 2014.

That $12 million eats into an already tight budget for Carolina, which entered the offseason with approximately $21 million in projected cap space. The Panthers have made a heavy commitment to the defensive line this offseason, with Hardy's bookend, Charles Johnson, scheduled to make $16.4 million.

In his four-year career, Hardy has made major strides. After amassing only seven sacks in his first two seasons combined, Hardy notched 11 in 2012 before his career-high total of 15 last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Hardy ranked third among all 4-3 defensive ends behind only Quinn and Cameron Wake of the Miami Dolphins.

There is still a chance Hardy may still never see the field again in a Panthers uniform. By tagging Hardy, Carolina controls his rights and can trade him to another team for compensation. Had the Panthers not tagged Hardy and allowed him to hit free agency, he would have almost certainly landed a big deal elsewhere.

In all likelihood, Carolina will hold onto Hardy and perhaps try to negotiate a long-term deal. The sides have until 4 p.m. ET on July 15 to do so. Should they not be able to extend Hardy's contract, he could then sign the deal, and his money becomes fully guaranteed provided he stays fit.

One of the major fears had by general manager David Gettleman was Hardy potentially staying within the NFC South. While the New Orleans Saints have all kinds of salary cap issues and were no threat, both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons have plenty of cap space and a need for pass-rushing.

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