That is the bottom line. There are lots of arguments on why to do it and why not to do it, but here's the simplest reason why: If they lose Hardy, then they just have to embark on a desperate search to find his replacement.
I was talking to a former Panther who watches the team closely the other day and we were discussing this issue. I said more or less that exact same thing, and the former Panther laughed and said: "Ha!! There's no way they find another one if they let him go. Absolutely none."
He's right. Hardy is a relentless pass-rushing force -- one of the top five players on the Panther team. And he makes Charles Johnson better on the other side because teams don't know where to concentrate their blocking. If you can't sign Hardy to a long-term deal, you use that franchise tag on him, gulp and pay him $13 million for a single season if you have to. The Panthers have until Monday at 4 p.m. to decide whether to do that.
I know he wants an awful lot of money long-term. But he's also in his prime at age 25. And he's had 26 sacks the past two years. You put some "good conduct" clauses in the contract -- Hardy has a quirky personality, we all know that, and the Panthers have to protect themselves to ensure he doesn't have another motorcycle acident or whatever -- and you get him for the long term. Or you franchise him and get him for the short term and postpone the ultimate decision. But there's no way you let him walk out the door. I hope all the maneuvering the Panthers have done salary-cap wise the past few days has been in large part to get money to pay Hardy, because that guy is worth it. As Coach Ron Rivera said last week: "One thing you always want to try to do is keep your strength strong. Our defensive line was very strong for us."
The Panthers are built around their defense, which was ranked No.2 in the NFL last season. If Hardy leaves, there is no way it will be ranked No.2 again. Keeping him for 2014 can happen, and it needs to happen.