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Panthers Franchise Tag Greg Hardy; Helps Market for Michael Johnson

Carolina has ensured Greg Hardy won't be leaving this year after placing the franchise tag on him.

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Grant Halverson

Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was widely viewed as the best free agent defensive end this offseason. Hardy has registered 26 sacks over the past two seasons and was the third-best DE on Pro Football Focus in 2013.

Joseph Person of The Charlotte Observer reported Thursday that Carolina remains in discussions with Hardy in hopes of signing him to a long-term deal. That may still be the case, but Carolina has ensured he won't be leaving this year after placing the franchise tag on him Friday, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.

That's significant for the Bengals and their own free agent DE, Michael Johnson. With Hardy now off the market, Johnson could be viewed by some teams as the best DE available and may overpay to sign him. Johnson and his agent have bee rumored to be seeking a deal that would pay him anywhere between $8-10 million annually, which is far more than the Bengals would be willing to pay for him.

It was already looking unlikely that the Bengals would be able to keep Johnson, but had Hardy made it to the open market, that could have led to a smaller market for Johnson. At the end of the day, one can only hope that Johnson gets the deal he deserves with a team who he'll continue to perform well with.