Panthers' Hardy signs his franchise tender offer for $13.1 million

jperson@charlotteobserver.comMarch 4, 2014 

The Carolina Panthers will have their sack monster back. Now it’s a matter of determining at what cost and for how long.

Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy signed his franchise tender Tuesday, guaranteeing his $13.1 million salary for this season, the team confirmed.

The move means Hardy can not sign an offer sheet with another team and gives the Panthers incentive to get a long-term deal done for salary-cap purposes.

The Panthers continue to negotiate with Hardy on a multiyear deal, although it’s unclear how close the two sides are. Teams have until July 15 to sign tagged players to long-term deals, which would supersede the franchise tenders.

With Hardy signing the tender and kicker Graham Gano receiving a four-year, $12 million deal last week, the Panthers are nearly $7  million below the $133 million salary cap.

Hardy and defensive end Charles Johnson now account for more than $29 million, or 22 percent, of the team’s cap.

Hardy is one of four players who received non-exclusive franchise tags before Monday’s deadline. The others are New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo and New York Jets kicker Nick Folk.

The Panthers could still trade Hardy, although they’ve given no indication they plan to do so.

When the Panthers placed the tag on Hardy on Friday, 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.”

Hardy and Johnson are both represented by Drew Rosenhaus.

Hardy, 25, went to his first Pro Bowl in January after tying Kevin Greene’s single-season franchise record of 15 sacks.

The so-called “Kraken” – the mythical sea creature Hardy adopted as his alter-ego – said last season he would be “honored” if the Panthers applied the tag to him. But he also told reporters he was looking for a “big-number” deal equal with his place among the game’s top pass-rushers.

Smith sits down with Gettleman: Panthers wideout Steve Smith met with Gettleman on Tuesday, according to a league source.

Smith called the meeting after Gettleman was non-committal about Smith’s future with the team when asked about him at the NFL Scouting Combine last month.

“Steve’s had a great career. He really has,” Gettleman said in Indianapolis. “None of us are here forever. But that’s not to say – he’s part of the evaluation process. That’s just the way it is.”

Smith, who will turn 35 in May, saw his production slip in 2013.

His 64 catches were his third-lowest during a full season in his 13-year career, and his 745 receiving yards were his second fewest, behind his 554-yard total in 2010. Smith’s 11.6 yards-per-catch average also ranked among the worst of his career.

With his fiery temperament and his place atop all of the franchise’s career receiving charts, Smith remains popular among the team’s fan base. He also has a good relationship with owner Jerry Richardson.

Smith is set to make $4 million in base salary this year, with a $3 million roster bonus due July 1.

He has a $3 million roster bonus due this year, along with a $4 million base salary.

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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