- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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"I would love a franchise, man,'' Hardy said Wednesday. "Add another year on my career. Get to play football a little bit longer without a contract. Another year to be in Carolina just to get them a chance to get their fiscal responsibilities in order so we can be here forever, like Steve [Smith] and a lot of other guys.''
The tag price for a defensive end in 2014 should be a slight increase over this season's $11,170,000. Hardy, a sixth-round pick out of Ole Miss in 2010, is making $1.35 million in the final year of his rookie deal.
His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and the team began talking about an extension before the season after Hardy had 11 sacks in 2012. Nothing got done. Hardy's value has increased the past few weeks after being named to his first Pro Bowl and tying the franchise season record with 15 sacks, including seven the past two weeks.
Hardy has made it clear he wants to remain in Carolina and is willing to take less (within reason) from the Panthers than what other teams might offer. The free-agent signing period begins March 11.
The franchise tag might help the Panthers (12-4) get in a better position to sign Hardy to a more lucrative long-term deal after next season. General manager Dave Gettleman has renegotiated deals to take the team from more than $16 million over the salary cap to more than $17 million under it since being hired in January.
He likely will need some of that to negotiate a long-term deal for quarterback Cam Newton if the team doesn't exercise its fifth-year option on the first pick of the 2011 draft.
That's why Hardy isn't opposed to the franchise tag, something many players shy away from.
"One year to get the bank right, one year to get the team right, another championship, you never know,'' Hardy said. "A year is a long time. I live on three seconds a play, man.''
Hardy won't say what it would take for the Panthers to re-sign him if they don't use the franchise tag, only that he would take a discount.
"Take $10 million off $110 million and it's still a $100 million,'' Hardy said. "That's not the case, but it is a number. It's not ridiculous, but like I said I want to be compensated what I deserve. And I will take a franchise tag if that's what it takes to get it done.''
Coach Ron Rivera said it's important to re-sign Hardy, noting he's a big part of why the Panthers have the league's No. 2-ranked defense and secured a first-round playoff bye.
"The young man is playing very well right now,'' Rivera said. "The nice thing we have going is he offered to take a hometown discount. We'll hold him to it.''
Hardy feels a sense of loyalty to the Panthers, who selected him in the sixth round, and to Rivera, who gave him a starting job even though he missed part of the 2011 training camp because he was in a motorcycle accident.
"That's the guy that gave me a starting position when I couldn't even walk still,'' Hardy said. "So that's my guy. This organization has always had my back when nobody wanted to take a chance on me in the draft.
"This is my place of residence. My family lives here. I live here. Y'all want me here, everybody knows what they've got to do. If not, you know, life sucks. I would be kind of sad about it.''
But Hardy knows he's in the driver's seat when it comes to negotiations, particularly after the past two weeks when he had three sacks against New Orleans followed by four against Atlanta.
"It's huge," he said. "It's not going to stop, not because of a contract, because I really, really get a kick out of dominating whatever I want. It's a great time of my life. It's optimum, precise, it's everything I would classify as a perfect year.''
21hBy Ian O'Connor