Twelve teams that could be a landing spot for Greg Hardy

Twelve teams that could be a landing spot for Greg Hardy

(Jared Dubin | - Greg Hardy will not return to the Carolina Panthers, according to a report from the Charlotte Observer.

He's a free agent this winter, and regardless of whether he gets suspended for six games as a result of his upcoming domestic violence trial, there will be a market for his services.

As former NFL agent Joel Corry recently said, "Hardy's going to get more of the benefit of the doubt just because he's a Pro Bowl-caliber player in his prime."

And he is that caliber of player. He totaled 26 sacks and 141 pressures in 2012 and 2013, which made him one of the best pass-rushers in the game, and he also graded out as one of the best run-defending 4-3 defensive ends in the league, according to Pro Football Focus' numbers.

So it's worth asking the question: which teams might pursue him once he hits the open market in March?

Let's narrow this thing down. First, we'll stipulate that Hardy is a protytpical 4-3 defensive end, and thus likely wouldn't be a fit for teams that primarily play a 3-4 front.

The transition from hand-on-the-ground end to stand-up linebacker is not one just anybody can make, and Hardy's talents as a run defender on the line of scrimmage wouldn't be put to as good of use in a 3-4 system as they would in a 4-3.

The teams that played primarily from a 4-3 last year: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks.

We'll knock the Panthers out of the running, obviously, and include the Atlanta Falcons, who often used multiple fronts last year and recently hired former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as head coach, who may take them back toward a more traditional 4-3 alignment, and the Patriots, who don't so much employ a specific defensive front as they do find ways to put players in a position to make plays.

That makes 16 teams, or half the NFL. Of those 16, eight finished in the bottom half of the NFL in sacks, while nine finished in the bottom half of the league in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate, indicating that they could use help with their pass rush.

Basically, of that group, only Buffalo, Jacksonville, Minnesota and St. Louis finished the season with obviously productive pass-rushing units and probably don't need to take a chance on Hardy. The other 12 teams could all probably use him to varying degrees.

The Giants might lose Jason Pierre-Paul in free agency and could be searching for a replacement, but Hardy doesn't exactly seem like the kind of guy who coach Tom Coughlin would want go go after.

Miami has an excellent pair of edge-rushers already in Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, so nope.

Denver has DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller so not much of a need there.

The Lions may or may not lose Ndamukong Suh this offseason, but they have Ezekiel Ansah as their right defensive end and may be looking more for a tackle to replace Suh and/or Nick Fairley.

Atlanta has a need for pass-rushing -- the Falcons finished with only 22 sacks last season -- and moving to a division rival would certainly sting the Panthers, but it's unknown exactly how they'll line up under Quinn's stewardship.

The Patriots love to utilize multiple fronts, could certainly use another rusher across from Chandler Jones, and have never shied away from bringing in controversial players, but Bill Belichick hasn't used many traditional 4-3, hand-on-the-ground defensive ends in his time in New England.

The Bears have Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young at defensive end, but Hardy is a better pass-rusher than any of them and the Bears do have some cap room to work with, and may have more if they trade Jay Cutler.

Cincinnati makes a ton of sense as a destination, both in a fit sense and in the sense that they've been open to taking on players with some degree of baggage. They've had Adam Jones on the roster for the last few years, bringing him in despite various run-ins with the law.

Additionally, Cincinnati needs to find a replacement for the pass-rushing prowess they lost when Michael Johnson left for Tampa Bay before last season. Wallace Gilberry was stretched thin as an every-down player last year, and Hardy could push him back into a situational role, where he was much more productive.

A front with Hardy and Carlos Dunlap on the edge, with Geno Atkins in the middle, would be one of the best in the AFC.

Dallas has a huge need at end to team with Jeremy Mincey and recently-drafted DeMarcus Lawrence, but may not have all that much cap room to work with depending on how things shake out with Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, their various defensive free agents and Tony Romo's league-high cap hit that may or may not be pushed into the future.

The Cowboys have a history of bringing in players who have had legal troubles, but that mostly pre-dates the Jason Garrett era, where they have focused on having the "right kind of guys," as the coach likes to say.

Tampa doesn't have all that much cap space, but has Johnson and Gerald McCoy on the line to draw attention away from Hardy and a coach -- Lovie Smith -- who would prefer to get pressure with his front four without having to resort to blitzing. Philosophically, it's a good fit if they can find away to squeeze him onto the cap.

Oakland has a ton of cap space and Khalil Mack as a great young player on the edge at linebacker, but Hardy would probably see a ton of double-teams if he went to such a weak defense.

The most terrifying result for other teams in the league would see Hardy end up in Seattle on a cheap, one-year contract, similar to how the team acquired Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril two years ago.

Hardy could team with those two and Jordan Hill to form one of the most fearsome pass-rushing units in the NFL when Bennett bumps inside to tackle on third downs, and he could rotate through at end on early downs to provide elite depth.

Seattle has approximately $23 million in cap space this offseason and needs to re-sign stalwarts like Marshawn Lynch and Bobby Wagner, but if Hardy sits on the market and is available for a discount, it's hard to think of a better place for him to recapture his value on a short-term deal.