- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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No. 2 in my ranking and evaluation of the 21 Carolina Panthers scheduled to become unrestricted free agents is a player that has an alter personality.
You guessed it.
Defensive end Greg Hardy, aka "The Kraken."
You probably thought he would be No. 1 since he's a young player (28) who brings so much to the defense. And I considered putting him there, but we'll get to that in a moment.
To rehash the rankings so far:
No. 21 quarterback Jimmy Clausen, No. 20 wide receiver Brandon LaFell, No. 19 cornerback Drayton Florence, No. 18 guard Geoff Hangartner, No. 17 linebacker Dan Connor, No. 16 linebacker Jason Williams, No. 15 tackle Bruce Campbell, No. 14 cornerback James Dockery, No. 13 defensive tackle Colin Cole, No. 12 guard Travelle Wharton, No. 11 linebacker Jordan Senn, No. 10 quarterback Derek Anderson, No. 9 cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, No. 8 wide receiver Domenik Hixon, No. 7 wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., No. 6 tight end Ben Hartsock, No. 5 place-kicker Graham Gano, No. 4 strong safety Quintin Mikell and No. 3 free safety Mike Mitchell...On to No 2:
Greg Hardy: Few if any players were more valuable to the Panthers on defense this past season. He led the team in sacks with 15, and in quarterback pressures with 38, 17 more than any other player. The ability to stop the run and pressure the quarterback with the front four is key in today's pass-happy NFL world, as we saw with Seattle against Denver in the Super Bowl. That Hardy is able to play end, tackle and occasionally drop back into coverage makes him that much more valuable. So why didn't I list him No. 1? The price tag for one. If the Panthers keep him with the franchise tag, that still will eat up a huge part of their cap room. It would eat up an even bigger portion if they signed him to a long-term deal, unless they back-ended much of the money. The other reason I put Hardy No. 2 is the Panthers got him with a sixth-round pick four years ago. Who's to say they can't find another diamond in the rough and blend him with young players such as Mario Addison and Frank Alexander? It's risky, but all a part of the thought process the Panthers must consider. If money wasn't an issue, Hardy easily would be No. 1 on my list. But it is, so I had to temper the ranking slightly. That being said, I agree totally with head coach Ron Rivera in that it's hard to imagine the Carolina defense without Hardy this season. I'd miss "Kraken" as well.