CHARLOTTE – The "Kraken" will be back in 2014.
The Panthers have applied the franchise tag to defensive end Greg Hardy, who tied the team record with 15 sacks last season.
"We are very pleased that Greg will be back with the Panthers next season," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He was a big reason we were able to lead the league in sacks last year and keeps our defensive line intact."
The four-year contract that Hardy signed as a rookie out of Mississippi in 2010 was set to expire March 11. The non-exclusive franchise designation, which each NFL team has the option to use on one player before the new league year begins each spring, gives Carolina a first-refusal right to match within seven days an offer sheet given to Hardy by another team.
The Panthers would retain Hardy by matching the offer or would be compensated with two first-round draft picks if they didn't match. As a part of the franchise tag, the Panthers must tender a minimum one-year qualifying offer of the average of the top five salaries from last season at Hardy's position or 120 percent of his 2010 salary, whichever is greater.
"The franchise mechanism gives us time to secure the services of a very good player while we continue to look at the future of Greg with the Carolina Panthers," general manager Dave Gettleman said. "We have had great dialogue with both Greg and his agent. It was important to keep our defensive front together."
Hardy is the fifth player in Panthers history to receive the franchise tag, joining punter Todd Sauerbrun (2003), tackle Jordan Gross (2008), defensive end Julius Peppers (2009) and center Ryan Kalil (2011).
In 2013, Hardy was selected to his first career Pro Bowl and earned Associated Press All-Pro second team honors after ranking third in the NFL and tying the team record for sacks previously accomplished by Kevin Greene in 1998. Hardy led the Panthers with 38 quarterback pressures and posted a career-high 67 tackles as part of a unit that racked up 60 sacks while ranking second in the NFL in total defense and points allowed.
Hardy was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week following the Panthers' first and last victories of the season – when he recorded a franchise-record four sacks in a Week 17 victory at the Atlanta Falcons that secured the NFC South title and when he produced three sacks in a Week 3 shutout of the New York Giants.
Hardy has teamed with Charles Johnson to give the Panthers the only set of teammates with 10 or more sacks in each of the last two seasons. The duo has combined for 49.5 sacks since the start of the 2012 season, tied for most in the NFL.
For his career, Hardy has played in 62 games with 39 starts and has registered 33 sacks. He was selected by the Panthers in the sixth round (175th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft.