The NFL draft and the ensuing few days were a heady time for the Dallas Cowboys. As has been well-documented here, the team saw talented cornerback Byron Jones selected in the first round, Randy Gregory fall to them in the second, and then they stunned the NFL by snatching La'el Collins as an undrafted free agent, giving them an amazing trifecta of top 20 or 25 talent, all without having to engage in costly trades to get any of them.
The still amazing story of how Collins came to be a highly motivated member of the organization has pushed Gregory back a bit in the minds of most, but he may have a surprising effect. He may be contribute to Greg Hardy never playing a down for Dallas in the regular season.
Hardy, who brought his own massive amount of controversy to the Cowboys when he was signed as a free agent, is currently under a ten-game suspension. While there is a belief that this will be reduced at some point, that is no guarantee. If he should only be available for the last six regular season games, then there is a question of whether the team still needs him. Even if the suspension is reduced, that is still a pertinent thing to consider.
The suspension and the need for him on the roster are two separate but important considerations. The NFLPA is engaged in fighting the severity of the punishment on behalf of their entire membership. The league is seen as making arbitrary decisions on how it hands out punishment, with the perceptions of the media and the public carrying far more weight than any adherence to the Collective Bargaining Agreement or due process under federal labor law. With the NFLPA engaged in an increasingly bitter confrontation with the NFL, and Roger Goodell, the Cowboys don't have to lift a finger to try and get the suspension reduced.
But the NFL has made a clever tactical move in the Hardy case, citing "conduct detrimental to the league", not the domestic violence policy, as the underlying reason for the harsh punishment. With that, they may be able to make the Hardy suspension stand up, or perhaps only have it reduced slightly, perhaps to eight games. The deck has already been stacked by the selection of a league-friendly arbitrator for the appeal. While a failure to get the suspension reduced in the initial appeal will almost certainly be fought in court, the NFL may be able to bolster its case by handing out a severe punishment to Tom Brady over the widely publicized Deflategate incident.
However, no matter what suspension Hardy serves (it is all but certain he will serve some number of games), the Cowboys may have no pressing need for him. With the addition of Gregory, they may have all the defensive ends they need without Hardy.
Going into the draft, Dallas already had DeMarcus Lawrence poised to have a breakout year. If he is the player at RDE that we all hope he will be, then Gregory might be the second RDE that Rod Marinelli would require for his rotation of pass rushers. And there are several other candidates who could be up to the task at RDE or LDE. Jeremy Mincey was a solid if unspectacular player last year. Everyone's favorite player who hasn't gotten a chance, Ben Gardner, is ready to take his shot. Jack Crawford was off to a good start last season before he was injured. The team also has Kenneth Boatright, Lavar Edwards, and fifth round pick Ryan Russell that might be part of the mix. If Dallas can find five good pass rushers from that group, then why would they need to pay the high price per game for Hardy? They will have the suspension to find out, and if the results are good, Hardy is suddenly very expendable.
That unique contract that Dallas signed Hardy to allows them to part ways with him at any time and only be out whatever workout bonus he has earned (a maximum of a little over $1.3 million). And the Cowboys would not only have the option of releasing him outright, but prior to the trade deadline, they could shop him to teams that are sorely lacking a pass rush.
On top of all this, Hardy could get in trouble again, which would almost certainly eliminate any chance of him playing for Dallas.
At the moment, the Cowboys certainly are planning to have Hardy play when he finally becomes available. There is just no way to know when that will be. And the longer they have to wait, the more time there is to find a much less expensive solution. When Dallas signed Hardy, he was a necessity. Now, with the drafting of Gregory, he and his public relations negatives may no longer be required. Letting him go is, after all, one thing his contract was structured to allow.