Analysis: Is Hardy’s suspension worse than Cowboys expected?

The Dallas Cowboys signed defensive end Greg Hardy this offseason knowing that he faced a possible suspension from the NFL under its personal conduct policy.

But it seems unlikely that the Cowboys expected Hardy’s suspension to be as lengthy as what the NFL announced Wednesday. The league suspended Hardy for the first 10 games of the 2015 season without pay, casting significant doubt on whether the former Pro Bowl defender will be able to make a significant on-field contribution in his first season with his new team.

Hardy will appeal the suspension though the NFL Players Association, a person familiar with the situation said. That appeal will put the players’ union back at odds with the league, just as the two sides have been at odds throughout the NFL’s formation of its revised personal conduct policy and the disciplinary proceedings involving Hardy, Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice.

Some of the issues raised as the union contests the disciplinary measures against Hardy probably will be similar to those raised when it contested the measures taken by the league against Peterson. The union likely will object to the NFL applying the standards of the revised conduct policy to a suspension imposed for off-field misconduct that took place prior to the new standards being enacted. The league, after being criticized heavily for its initial two-game suspension of Rice, announced last year that future disciplinary cases for domestic violence would result in a six-game suspension for a first-time offender. NFL officials said at the time that suspensions could be longer or shorter than that, depending on circumstances.

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The NFL conducted its own investigation into the Hardy case, led by former prosecutor Lisa Friel, and Commissioner Roger Goodell ruled that “Hardy engaged in conduct detrimental to the league and that a suspension of this length would be appropriate under any version of the Personal Conduct Policy or its predecessors,” according to a written statement released by the league.

Hardy missed all but one game last season, while with the Carolina Panthers, after agreeing to be placed on the exempt-commissioner’s permission list, on which he was paid while not playing. He had been found guilty by a judge of assaulting and threatening his former girlfriend. Prosecutors dismissed the charges against him just as Hardy’s jury trial was about to begin, saying they had not received the cooperation of Hardy’s former girlfriend and citing knowledge that she had reached a financial settlement with Hardy.

The NFL’s written statement Wednesday said the league’s investigation had concluded that he had used “physical force against Nicole Holder in at least four instances.”

Goodell wrote to Hardy, according to the NFL’s written announcement: “The net effect of these acts was that Ms. Holder was severely traumatized and sustained a range of injuries, including bruises and scratches on her neck, shoulders, upper chest, back, arms and feet. The use of physical force under the circumstances present here, against a woman substantially smaller than you and in the presence of powerful, military-style assault weapons, constitutes a significant act of violence in violation of the Personal Conduct Policy.”

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Hardy’s appeal is to be made to Goodell or a person appointed by him. When the NFL revised the personal conduct policy and the owners ratified the new policy in December, the league left Goodell in charge of resolving appeals. The NFL put initial disciplinary rulings under the authority of a new chief disciplinary officer. Goodell previously had possessed the power both to make initial rulings and resolve appeals. The union had sought to have appeals heard by an independent arbitrator. It has filed a grievance challenging the revised conduct policy.

In Peterson’s case, the union objected to the neutrality of Harold Henderson, the former league executive appointed by Goodell to hear Peterson’s appeal. The union took Peterson’s case to federal court in Minnesota and won, with the case being sent back to the NFL for further proceedings under the collective bargaining agreement. The league appealed that ruling but since then has reinstated Peterson.

So it is possible that many steps remain to be taken in Hardy’s case. But in the meantime, it’s doubtful that the Cowboys can count on him playing a major on-field role for them during the upcoming season.

The team protected itself financially when it signed Hardy to a one-year contract worth as much as about $13.1 million. Hardy’s base salary is $750,000. That will be reduced by the suspension. But the bulk of his 2015 income comes through roster bonuses of $578,125 per game, totaling $9.25 million for a full 16-game season.

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But if Hardy’s 10-game suspension is upheld, he would not be eligible to play until a Thanksgiving Day game Nov. 26 against his former team, the Panthers. At that point, he will have missed close to two NFL seasons. The terms of his suspension permit him to participate in offseason activities, training camp and the preseason with the Cowboys. Even so, it would be difficult to envision Hardy being able to step into the lineup and be a productive player at that point.

The NFL’s goal clearly was to impose a meaningful punishment on Hardy.

It appears to have succeeded in doing so.