A t 10:53 a.m. Tuesday, the domestic violence trial against Panthers’ defensive end Greg Hardy began. What followed were 10 hours filled with accusations of abuse, lurid details of a relationship gone bad, and an admission of drug use.At 8:58 p.m., District Judge Becky Thorne Tin announced her verdict: “The court is entirely convinced Hardy is guilty of assault on a female and communicating threats.”Thorne Tin then gave Hardy, who stood silently, a 60-day suspended jail sentence. He also received 18 months’ probation. Hardy’s lawyer, Chris Fialko, immediately appealed the verdict and requested a jury trial. North Carolina allows for Hardy’s punishment to be delayed until his next trial.”We respect the judge’s the decision today,” Fialko said. “But Greg Hardy will now have a jury trial, a brand new jury trial, and we’re confident he will be acquitted of both these charges at this jury trial.”Due to North Carolina’s slow-moving judicial system, Hardy’s jury trial may not happen until after the upcoming season. But before the Panthers even report to training camp next week, the team needs to decide what they’re going to do about their 25-year-old star.Through a team spokesman Tuesday night, the team said, “We have just learned of the verdict and are respectful of the process. We do not have a comment at this time.”Considering the Panthers’ history, this may not be as simple. Owner Jerry Richardson has long been haunted by the actions of former receiver Rae Carruth. And now, 13 years after Carruth was convicted, Richardson is employing a player who was found guilty of domestic violence.So the Panthers find themselves in a tremendously difficult spot.Hardy signed his franchise tender in March, guaranteeing a 2014 salary of $13.1 million. The team never had plans to give him a long-term contract before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. league deadline, but Hardy sitting in a courtroom when the deadline came and went wasn’t expected either.As best we can tell right now, here are some of the Panthers’ options going forward:
- They can do nothing and wait for Hardy’s jury trial.
- They can wait for the NFL to possibly suspend Hardy. (The Panthers would get credit back against the cap for the number of games he’s suspended.)
- They can release Hardy. (They’d still owe him $13.1 million.)
- They can release Hardy and claim his conviction is a default of his contract. (A legal process that would take months.)
- They could trade Hardy. (A team willing to do this would inherit Hardy’s cap charge, plus the public relations problems that would likely follow.)
So just as the Panthers were about to exit one of their roughest offseasons in franchise history, things somehow got worse. Eight days remain before they have to report to Bank of America Stadium for the start of training camp. Hardy will likely be called there much sooner.[gap size=”1.813em”]