The Kraken’s call rang across the crowded sea of Twitter: Immmmmmmm backkkkkk.
The Carolina Panthers announced Friday they have applied the franchise tag to defensive end Greg Hardy, the so-called “Kraken” who tied a team record last season with 15 sacks. That tag means barring an unlikely trade or holdout, he will return.
The tag buys the Panthers time to continue negotiating with Hardy on a long-term extension. Teams have until July 15 to sign tagged players to multi-year deals.
Otherwise, the Panthers will have Hardy for this season at a cost of $13 million, a prohibitive figure for a team with 21 players set to become restricted or unrestricted free agents.
“The franchise mechanism gives us time to secure the services of a very good player while we continue to look at the future of Greg with the Carolina Panthers,” general manager Dave Gettleman said in a release. “We have had great dialogue with both Greg and his agent. It was important to keep our defensive front together.”
If the Panthers fail to reach a long-term deal with Hardy, they would have 22 percent ($29 million) of their salary cap tied up in the starting defensive ends. The salary cap has been set at $133 million, an increase of $10 million from last season, the NFL Players Association announced Friday.
Charles Johnson, who has a cap figure of $16.4 million, and Hardy are the league’s only defensive tandem to collect at least 10 sacks apiece in each of the past two seasons. Their combined 49.5 sacks are tied with St. Louis defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn for the most in the NFL over that span.
Johnson and Hardy are both represented by Drew Rosenhaus. Johnson has been mentioned as a candidate to rework his contract for cap purposes, although there have been no reported restructuring talks involving him to this point.
Hardy, whose alter-ego is a mythical sea monster, used a strong finishing kick to tie Kevin Greene’s single-season franchise record of 15 sacks. Hardy bunched seven of them during the final two regular-season games, but didn’t record a sack in the playoff loss to San Francisco.
His pass-rush skills – he led the team with 38 quarterback pressures – and his ability to play multiple spots along the line helped anchor the league’s second-ranked defense.
“We are very pleased that Greg will be back with the Panthers next season,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He was a big reason we were able to lead the league in sacks last year and keeps our defensive line intact.”
Hardy becomes the fifth Panthers player to receive the tag, joining punter Todd Sauerbrun (2003), tackle Jordan Gross (2008), defensive end Julius Peppers (2009) and center Ryan Kalil (2011).
Hardy, a sixth-round pick from Mississippi in 2010, said late last season he would be honored if the Panthers used the franchise tag on him. But he also said he wanted a “big number” deal commensurate with his place among the game’s top pass-rushers.
Hardy posted a career-high 67 tackles last season and earned his first Pro Bowl berth.
He was the Panthers’ biggest priority among their free agents. With Hardy getting tagged and kicker Graham Gano receiving a four-year deal Friday, the next order of business for the Panthers will be getting free safety Mike Mitchell and receiver/returner Ted Ginn Jr. under contract.
Mitchell tied for the team lead with four interceptions last season, while Ginn set career highs with five receiving touchdowns and a 15.4 yards per catch average.
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