Free agent Greg Hardy has been linked with the Falcons by some sources. My colleague Will defended a potential Hardy signing earlier today; this is my response.
At this point, everyone knows what Greg Hardy did and why the various words used to describe his character are deserved. I won’t go into that here, but if you want to read up on it, here’s a Deadspin piece from last year.
Let’s skip past the (very real) moral objections against signing Greg Hardy and approach it strictly from a business point of view. You can call Hardy a major risk for prospective teams, but honestly that undersells the issue. Risk implies uncertainty and, yes, there is plenty of that when it comes to signing Hardy, but there are also problems that are certain. Hardy will be a turnoff to fans and media. The Falcons worked hard to get past the Michael Vick incident and have clearly been fishing for goodwill lately with fans – slashing stadium food prices was a great start – and Greg Hardy would be a major step in the opposite direction. Hardy won’t make the Falcons lose a significant portion of their fanbase or cause a precipitous drop in ticket sales, but pulling for Hardy will leave a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of fans. In an economic ecosystem where companies value perception and general goodwill highly, this matters.
Would Hardy improve the on-field product for the Falcons? Yes, in the sense that the roster tomorrow would look better than the roster today. The team has been in desperate need of pass rush help since John Abraham left, and Hardy clearly has talent. Does Hardy improve the team in the long run, though? I’m not sure. Hardy was a cancer both in the locker room and on the sideline last year. I’m not sure other players want to play with him and it certainly seems like he’s difficult to coach.
I get the argument for Hardy: he’s a good player you can pick up for cheap because he’s (mentally, emotionally, morally) damaged goods. Still, even if you somehow think Hardy is a net plus, this move makes much more sense for a team that is one piece away from a championship. What if the only thing missing is a good pass rusher, you’re almost capped out, and you think your window for a championship is closing? Then sure we can have this conversation, but none of those things apply to the Falcons. We’re talking about a team that went 8-8 last year and missed the playoffs, not a team that lost in the NFC championship game. The Falcons have a lot of holes to fill and if J.J. Watt can’t turn the Texans into a championship team by himself, I don’t see how the difference between Hardy and the next best pass rusher on the market will do the same for the Falcons.
So here’s my plea to Thomas Dimitroff and the Falcon’s front office: don’t sign Hardy. I understand that NFL teams can’t win if they try to carry the moral burden of a Mark Richt college program, and I’m not asking that, but the line between Greg Hardy and acceptable behavior from a professional athlete isn’t a fine one. It’s the Atlantic Ocean. Moreover, Hardy has never repented or accepted any responsibility for his actions. If we were going to take a risk on a talented, troubled pass rusher, Robert Nkemdiche was our opportunity. He’s younger and his transgressions are much easier to forgive. Signing Greg Hardy is a bad move for the franchise and a disservice to its fans.
The issue is similar to the one in college football with Mississippi State. A 5-star recruit beat a woman on video but the higher ups in the program have decided not to revoke his scholarship. Some fans have been defending the college program because “someone else would have taken him.” And yes, a professional team will probably sign Hardy at some point this season, but the Falcons don’t have to be that team. Maybe it’s just me, but I believe you should aim to hold your own professional (and collegiate, for that matter) organization to higher standards than the lowest common denominator.