Surely you’re confused about the title of this post. After all, how Charles Haley — one of the best players in Dallas Cowboys history, the only NFL player to win five Super Bowls and (now) a hall of famer — can be compared to a player who is only five years in his professional career?
If you thinking along these lines, there is no discussion. Hardy is still in his early years on the league and, except for the franchise tag in 2014, just signed his second deal as a pro.
My argument, however, is different. And what you are about to read shows that the similarities between Hardy and Haley go far beyond than the first letters of their last name.
What a start!
Drafted out of Madison, Charles Haley was chosen by the San Francisco 49ers in a mid round of the 1986 draft. Even though he just started three games in his first two years in the NFL, Haley recorded impressive 40.5 sacks in his first 60 games in the league — averaging 2 sacks every three games. Still, the defensive end/outside linebacker recorded 9 forced fumbles and 1 safety in this same period. With 11.5 sacks in the 1998 season, Haley was rewarded with his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
24 years after Haley was drafted, Greg Hardy went through the same process. After playing for Ole Miss, Hardy was chosen by the Carolina Panthers in the 6th round of the 2010 NFL draft. Unlike Haley, Hardy wasn’t brilliant in his first two seasons. However, the Kraken finished his fourth year in the NFL with 33 sacks in 62 games, averaging a little more than 1 sack every two games, with 6 forced fumbles and 2 safeties. With 15 sacks in the 2013 season, Carolina’s franchise record, Hardy was nominated to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
Off field issues
Finishing his rookie contract, Hardy received the franchise tag from the Panthers to stay for the 2014 season. However, the defensive end played only one game before being placed in the inactive list after being accused of assaulting his girlfriend. Placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, Hardy didn’t get another chance to play for the Panthers again. Out of contracts, the Cowboys were the only franchise that reportedly showed interest in the player — besides the Buccaneers.
With Charles Haley, the situation was a little different. The controversial player (who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after he retired) wasn’t popular in the locker room. Known for being a bully, Haley humiliated his teammates whom he didn’t like. The Hall of Famer fought Steve Young, 49ers star, after a loss to the Raiders, and for taking a leak inside a teammate’s car (yes, this really happened). The event forced the 49ers to get rid of him. With the Dallas Cowboys interest, San Francisco didn’t think long before sending him to Dallas in a trade.
Dallas Cowboys situation
When Dallas signed Haley, the team was in a rebuilding period. In 1989, Jerry Jones bought the franchise and switched the legendary coach Tom Landry for Jimmy Johnson. Besides the awful start, Johnson started a process of rebuilding the team, using some players who were in the roster (like the wide receiver Michael Irvin, chosen in the draft one year before his arrival) and bringing a lot of key players over the years, like center Mark Stepnoski, offensive tackle Erik Williams, defensive tackle Russell Maryland and, of course, running back Emmitt Smith and quarterback Troy Aikman.
In 1991, the Dallas Cowboys finished the season with a positive record and winning the division for the first time in years. Finishing 11-5, the team still had to count with his backup QB in some games due to injuries suffered by Troy Aikman. In the playoffs, the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears in the wild card, but lost on the divisional round to the Detroit Lions. The team that didn’t reached the postseason since 1985 was finally back.
During the current era, the coincidences started to appear. Named as the official head coach in 2011, Jason Garrett also started a rebuilding process. Using Dez Bryant (who happened to be a wide receiver and use the 88 jersey as well) and other players, Garrett also brought good players over the years, like center Travis Frederick, offensive tackle Tyron Smith, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and, of course, offensive guard Zack Martin and running back DeMarco Murray.
Like 1991, the 2014 Dallas Cowboys finished the season with a positive record and the division title for the first time in years. With a 12-4 record, the team still had to count with his backup QB, Brandon Weeden, in a few games because Romo hurt his back. In the postseason, the 2014 team coincidentally faced NFC North franchises. Beating the Detroit Lions in the wild card, the Dallas Cowboys was eliminated in the divisional round, this time, however, by the Green Bay Packers.
With only 23 sacks in the 1991 season, the 1992 Dallas Cowboys reemerged when Charles Haley arrived. Although Haley recorded only six sacks during his first season as a Cowboy, the team finished the regular season with 44 sacks, making one of the worse defensive lines into one of the most feared in only a year. In the postseason, the defense forced six turnovers in two games and nine in the Super Bowl, which is a record that is still stands. Led by Haley, the defense beat up Bills QB — and Hall of Famer — Jim Kelly and forced him to leave the game.
In 2013, the defensive line was certainly the weakest part of the team. Comparing to 1991, the number of sacks was a little better: 27. Even though Hardy doesn’t share the same psychological problems as Haley, the Kraken comes to Dallas to fill the most needed position since DeMarcus Ware departure.
Even with a lot of similarities, it is impossible to predict Greg Hardy’s performance in the 2015 Dallas Cowboys. Unlike Haley, Hardy signed only a one-year deal and have the risk of being suspended for some games.
However, Hardy lands in Dallas to have the same role as Haley. A player that, besides being young, add a lot to the DL. Also, the experience that the veteran DE Jeremy Mincey (compared to Haley’s teammate Jim Jeffcoat) brings to the table can help the younger players to succeed. Thus, Hardy can turn the weak defensive line into one of the team’s pillar for 2015 season.
Will the 2015 Dallas Cowboys start a new dynasty, winning three Super Bowls in four years and will consolidate the franchise as the America’s Team one more time? Well, it’s very unlikely. However, the same first step was taken.