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GM: Greg Hardy's Carolina Panthers future in question

In a Tuesday interview with the "Around The League Podcast," impending free agent Greg Hardy said it would be "a big honor" if the Carolina Panthers apply the franchise tag as a means of keeping the Pro Bowl defensive end in Charlotte for the 2014 season.

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General manager Dave Gettleman explained Tuesday that salary-cap challenges have prevented his front office from deciding whether to keep Hardy or allow him to hit the open market as the No. 1 pass rusher available.

"Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise, we'll be out of (salary-cap purgatory) in two years," Gettleman said. "Everybody lets players go. There isn't a team in this league that hasn't let a big dog walk out the door.

"And don't print that I'm saying (Hardy's) going to go. I'm just making a statement. There isn't anybody who hasn't done that. Again, there's a whole, big puzzle we're putting together and he's one of the pieces."

We applaud Gettleman for introducing his answer with a folksy reference to a Southern idiom turned Hank Williams Sr. and Johnny Cash ditty. After spending the majority of his life in New England and New York, he's adapted well to Charlotte.

Gettleman was faced with a tremendous challenge in trimming the roster fat on a tight budget last year. His "big puzzle" this offseason is even more complex. In addition to weighing his whopping 21 free agents, Gettleman must prioritize a contract extension for Cam Newton and devise a game plan for Hardy.

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"The Kraken" tied a franchise record with 15 sacks in 2013 after generating 11 in a breakout 2012 season. Prior to racking up seven sacks in the final two games of the season, Hardy said he would be willing to accept "some cut" in his market value to stay with the Panthers.

He won't come cheaply, though. Hardy's asking price is expected to be in the neighborhood of teammate Charles Johnson's six-year, $76 million contract.

The franchise tag for defensive ends is projected to be worth $12.5 million. Johnson's 2014 salary is roughly $9 million.

Can Gettleman afford to pay a premium for two pass rushers while also forking over a lucrative long-term deal for his quarterback? Will he strip his roster of depth in the process?

It's conundrums such as these that have kept every NFC South power from repeating as champion since the division was created in 2002.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" interviews Carolina Panthers star Greg Hardy and looks ahead to the Conference Championships.

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