Panthers cautious with Hardy situation

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers are taking the cautious approach regarding Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, who was found guilty July 15 on domestic violence charges.

Instead of disciplining Hardy after a Mecklenburg County judge ruled him guilty of assaulting and communicating threats against his ex-girlfriend, the team jumped in line with the NFL and will await until the appeal is heard before deciding on potential discipline.

The hearing won't be heard until after the season.

In other words, the Panthers will get 16 games of Hardy playing for his next contract with the chance of never having to discipline him if he signs with another team in 2015.

That doesn't mean the Panthers aren't taking Hardy's situation seriously. General manager Dave Gettleman began a Thursday news conference as players reported to training camp by saying Hardy's situation was "very concerning and disappointing.”

He referred to the accusations made by Nicole Holder in reference to the May incident that led to Hardy's arrest as "very serious accusations.”

"At the same time we respect the fact that Greg has appealed the decision and is entitled to a jury trial,” Gettleman said. "We have been in touch with the league and we're in the position where they have the personal conduct policy, which we are a part of. At the same time, we have to respect the legal process. Really, that's basically where we're at.”

And according to Gettleman, referring to reports that Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice will be given a two-game suspension by the NFL for a similar offense, the league doesn't plan to do anything until Hardy's jury trial has been completed.

"What I can say is, and you can see it with the Ray Rice decision, it appears the league is going to let the entire process play out,” Gettleman said.

An NFL spokesman told ESPN.com on Thursday that the "matter remains under review” and that "any discipline will result from a violation of the league's Personal Conduct Policy.”

But if the Panthers wanted to take a hard line, they could have. They could have suspended or fined Hardy for actions detrimental to the team, just as the Miami Dophins suspended Richie Incognito for accusations made during the investigation into his harassment of teammate Jonathan Martin.

Hardy and his representatives likely would have filed a grievance, but the message would have been sent.

The league also could have taken action against Hardy. Under the NFL's code of conduct policy, a player can be suspended if he isn't charged or convicted of a crime.

Still, a grievance likely would have been filed.

In Rice's case, the Pro Bowl running back pleaded guilty to a third-degree charge of aggravated assault involving an altercation that reportedly left his then-fiancée unconscious. He avoided a trial by being accepted into a pretrial intervention program.

The league, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter on Thursday, opted to suspended Rice for the first two games of the season and fine him $58,000, as well as ask him to take counseling.

There is no finality to Hardy's situation. Hardy was sentenced to 18 months probation with a 60-day jail sentence suspended. The probation sentence was placed on hold until after the jury trial.

But the accusations made by Holder that Hardy threatened to kill her and threw her on a futon covered in guns could be viewed as detrimental to the team. It's certainly not the image the Panthers want associated with the player that led them in sacks (15.5) last season and earned the franchise tag that guarantees him $13.1 million in 2014.

As Gettleman said, "we constantly talk to our players about putting themselves in a position to succeed, both on the field and even more importantly in life.”

Granted, this is a tough spot for Gettleman and the Panthers. Because of the appeal, it is an issue that will hang over the team all season, even though players repeatedly said it won't be a distraction.

"It's something the team and [Hardy's] group will handle,” said tight end Greg Olsen, echoing the thoughts of other players brought in for interviews. "That's really the end of it as far as the players are concerned. I've seen him already today. He seems excited to be here. I'm sure he's ready to kind of move into the season, and as teammates, that's the nature of the game.

"It's completely separate from what we're doing here, and that's the approach we take.”

Gettleman did allow that Hardy's off-the-field troubles didn't have an effect on his contract, as the team didn't sign him to a long-term deal by the July 15 deadline for franchised players. In other words, the Panthers were happy to have Hardy for $13.1 million and playing for another deal.

Gettleman wouldn't speculate on whether Hardy's situation will have an impact on signing the former Ole Miss star to a long-term deal after the season. At this point, it's hard to imagine Hardy being at Carolina after this season.

Gettleman, not making light of the situation, actually laughed when asked to speculate that far ahead.

His repeated comment was: "We have to let the process play out.”

"Obviously, everybody has to deal with this,” Gettleman said. "It's not an easy situation. But it's in the courts and we have to respect that process. Just have to."