Updated: 2/28/2014 4:46 pm
Charlotte, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - The Carolina Panthers will have one of their cornerstone defenders back for at least one more season, as the defending NFC South champions designated defensive end Greg Hardy as their franchise player on Friday.
The move ensures that Hardy, whose 15 sacks in 2013 tied a team record and ranked third in the NFL, will be kept off the free agent market, where the standout pass rusher almost would have been one of the most sought-after players. Tagging him also provides the Panthers additional time to work out a long-term contract.
According to NFL.com, the franchise salary for defensive ends this coming season is projected to be around $13 million.
"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," Carolina 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."
After netting just seven sacks over his first two seasons, Hardy racked up 11 along with 61 tackles during a breakthrough 2012 campaign. The 25-year-old was even more productive this past year in helping Carolina record a league-best 60 sacks en route to a surprise 12-4 season.
A sixth-round steal by the Panthers in the 2010 draft, Hardy twice earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors as well in 2013. He and fellow end Charles Johnson are the only set of teammates to produce 10 or more sacks in each of the last two seasons, having combined for 49 1/2 over that span.