In the same hurried and urgent way Greg Hardy tries to get to quarterbacks, Cowboys watchers are trying to get to Greg Hardy -- and more specifically, to answers about his future.
Those attempts are everywhere and they are endless, and include attempts to read between the lines of teammates' comments, to interpret what team management says and does not say, and even to rely on "sources'' who are offering answers that, logically-speaking, they cannot possibly know.
Now, we can make educated guesses. ... but we should label them as such. My educated guess is that there are so many moving parts involved in the possible retention of Hardy that the Cowboys might move on. (The money. The hassle. The other potential acquisitions. Moving parts.)
But we cannot be certain. Can we?
The latest report comes from my friend Jason Cole at Bleacher Report, who says, "In talking to sources close to Dallas defensive end Greg Hardy, the expectation from their side is that the Cowboys are not going to bring Hardy back after a tumultuous first season with the team and a tumultuous season after his return to the league after a one-year suspension.''
The one-year suspension -- the result of Hardy's heinous involvement in a domestic-violence case -- still looms large in Hardy's life, and certainly in his contractual future. He's conceded that to me in two different conversations since the end of Dallas' disappointing 4-12 season.
"I know I won't get the contract I would've gotten (otherwise),'' Hardy tells me.
Without the domestic-violence case, and some of Hardy's other "dfferent-drummer'' behavior? This is a $13-million a year player, a $100-mil contract player, a $50-mil guarantee player. But that's almost certainly not happening when the free-agency market opens on March 9. Hardy, on top of the behavioral stuff and the PR stuff, is coming off a six-sack season during which he was far less impacful that he'd hoped to be.
"It's about sacks,'' Hardy told me. "That was my job. We weren't relevant. In that sense, (2015) sucked.''
And yet Hardy wants very much -- money aside -- to return to the Cowboys. When 105.3 The Fan's Ben Rogers and I quizzed Hardy on "the top four things he likes about playing in Dallas,'' he said, "It's awesome, it's awesome, it's awesome, and it's awesome.''
So where is Cole's info coming from? It's weird that Hardy's own camp would suggest a divorce is a sure thing, because in doing so they would not be mirroring Hardy's own desires. It's also weird that such "sources'' would include in their words to Bleacher Report the idea that Hardy "partied a lot during the season and was not in great physical shape as the season wore on and on and on. That was part of the reason he was tardy to several meetings during the season and part of the reason why the team felt so distracted by his presence."
That's a mouthful. Let's take smaller bites:
*To my knowledge, Hardy had an excused absence from one meetings/practice day. The team annoounced it was illness-related; Hardy told me the next day that he'd had the flu. To my knowledge, he was also late on one other occasion and as I've half-joked on 105.3 The Fan, he may have been suffering from the "Uptown Flu'' that morning. It's been written that he was "perpetually tardy,'' an accusation that may ring true but one that really deserves true examination.
*Hardy, single and 27, absolutely enjoyed the Uptown scene in Dallas. I received multiple reports of him popping up in this restaurant or that nightspot. I received no reports that he was in any way a problem on the social scene.
*He was, however, a problem on social media. Cowboys management met with Hardy multiple times to discuss with him his dealings with the media and what I in the fall labeled his "cesspool'' of a Twitter account. I caught hell for allowing myself to be intrigued and even entertained by Hardy's initial at-large session with the media, and our visit then -- infamously thought of now as a "Tom Brady's wife'' discussion -- but I stand by my actions, thoughts and feelings of that time: Greg Hardy is a fascinating person and a long-standing oddball ... a person who has a problem with tardiness that is documented from his freshman year at Ole Miss, a person who has problems with behavior that causes him to be just a sixth-round pick by Carolina, and now, a person who has a problem with a domestic-violence incident that will (rightfully) haunt him forever. ... and cost him a financial fortune.
*Allegations that Hardy wasn't "in shape'' make little sense. Coaches and teammates raved about his "practice motor'' from his very first day at Valley Ranch. After a year in Carolina limbo, Hardy may have been caked in rust. But he was not "out of shape.''
*Many media members have cited Cowboys teammates' "private'' unflattering thoughts on Hardy. But the centerpiece of much of that is locker-mate Jeremy Mincey, who conflicted with Hardy more than any other teammate but who is also closer to Hardy than any other teammate. After the final game of the season, the two men exchanged a private hug, and while embracing, Hardy asked Mincey -- a veteran leader of the D-line group -- to pass his phone number around to the other defensive linemen so they could all be in touch.
This is largely unknown but highly significant. Mincey doesn't dislike Hardy; "We're brothers,'' Jeremy tells me. But he does dislike the idea that Hardy's personal style might rub off on kids like Tank Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Remember this when you wrongly scoff at owner Jerry Jones' characterization of Hardy as a "leader''; "leader'' doesn't necessarily mean "positive.'' It just means that people follow you -- and people do indeed follow the charismatic Hardy. And yes, that can lead to the decay of a group that needs to be as devoted and as bonded as is possible to succeed.
Mincey is sure not alone in his concern, though make sure you get a balance here. Says defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, a keen observer not only of the realities of football but also of human interaction, when asked if he wants Hardy back: "Oh, yeah! Where he's heading and the work habits and those things that he has, I think the future could be really special for him.''
A locker room has many voices. Is there an anti-Hardy vibe? Sure. There's also a pro-Hardy vibe. To wit:
Besides that, and speaking of the Joneses and Cowboys management: They may have finally figured out that revealing remarks to the media at-large about unsigned players are counterproductive. Oh, Jerry is still Jerry; at the end of the season, he reviewed Hardy thusly: “He was an outstanding player and we may not have gotten his individual sack total up, but he made an impact across the board. He was a good player for us, and we’ll evaluate (him as a free agent) real close as we would with any good player.”
But since then, coach Jason Garrett has been close-mouthed on the subject ... and some in Cowboys Nation have chosen to view this as being a thumbs-down from the coach regarding the player. For instance: On the same season-wrap-up press conference day Garrett was lengthy and effusive in his praise of running back Darren McFadden, two breaths away he said robotically of Hardy, "“I thought Greg did some good things for us on the field, defended the run well at times, impacted the quarterback at different times during the game.''
Now, I've been around Valley Ranch for 26 years. I know what "Did some good things'' means. It's "JimmySpeak,'' what one of Garrett's mentors, Jimmy Johnson used to say, when being dismissive toward a media question about an unimportant player. So here ... Does that presser mean Garrett loves McFadden as this team's bell-cow running back and hates Hardy as its defensive anchor? Or does that mean that McFadden is under contract and that Hardy's cost ($8.8 mil) only goes up in negotiations if the coach lavishes praise upon him?
The smartest and most honest approach comes from COO Stephen Jones, speaking this week at the Senior Bowl and saying, "We're not gonna address that yet. It's still a work in progress. We'll continue to have discussions."
The door on paying Hardy monster money is essentially shut. But why not leave the door slightly ajar? Last March, we reportedly exclusively that Dallas was not interested in the controversial Hardy as a "tier-one'' free agent ... but was interested in exploring his acquisition if the price was winnowed down. And you know what happened.
And here we are again, March 9 approaching but not here yet. Answers etched in stone but not here yet. Educated guesses making sense ... but guesses aren't facts ... yet.
''“If the Cowboys offer me an opportunity to stay," Hardy said at season's end, "I would love to stay here.''
We are ferocious in our attempts to secure a final answer to this issue. But we are premature in thinking we've gotten it.