HONOLULU The 40- to 50-feet-high waves on Oahu’s legendary North Shore are too much for surfers this week, but they would seem to be ideal for a mythological sea creature.
Except when that beast is angling for a huge contract.
Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, aka “the Kraken,” said he went to one of Oahu’s beaches with his girlfriend to see the waves, but he didn’t set foot in the water.
“I don’t play around like that,” Hardy said Thursday. “Not before money time.”
Hardy, playing in his first Pro Bowl in his fourth season, is set to become a free agent in March. He said there has been no movement in the contract talks between his agent Drew Rosenhaus and the Panthers.
“It’s a waiting process,” Hardy said. “They’ve got to get the budget right.”
The Panthers could opt to use the franchise tag on Hardy for about $12 million for the 2014 season. But given what general manager Dave Gettleman called the Panthers’ salary “cap-challenged” situation, and the fact that this is the first time they’ve been able to negotiate with quarterback Cam Newton on an extension, the Panthers could let Hardy walk.
“It’s a reality of football. It’s a reality of business,” Hardy said. “They’ve got the ball in their court right now. If that’s what they choose to do, nothing but respect and love. Carolina’s my home. But I’ve got to go back to work. I’d rather be here if I can. But if not, it’s just business.”
Hardy, who tied a franchise record with 15 sacks during the regular season, is part of a stacked defensive line on Deion Sanders’ team this week. Hardy was practicing Thursday behind perennial Pro Bowlers Mario Williams and J.J. Watt at end, while the tackles include Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe and Ndamukong Suh.
Hardy doesn’t have the name recognition as most of those players, although he hopes the Kraken will be identifiable by week’s end.
“I always kind of lay low and fly under the radar. The O-linemen kind of remember me. But I don’t think I’ve got a big wave riding around this island, not yet,” Hardy said. “So that’s what we’re working on.”
Gonzalez not gone yet: Future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez thought he had played his last game when Atlanta lost to the Panthers in Week 17. But when San Francisco’s Vernon Davis pulled out of the Pro Bowl this week, Gonzalez got the call to come to Hawaii for a 14th – and final – Pro Bowl.
Gonzalez, who will turn 38 next month, had to cancel a trip to the Bay area and a couple of business meetings, but he said it was well worth it.
“To be able to come out here the last game, it’s great. I wasn’t anticipating this,” Gonzalez said. “I really thought the last game of the season we played against the Carolina Panthers, I thought that was going to be the last time I put on the helmet and shoulder pads. I’m very blessed to be chosen to come over here and I’m going to have a good time.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who is working with alumni captain Jerry Rice’s team, said it’s fitting to have Gonzalez in the game Sunday.
“Tony’s been great for this league for so many years,” Rivera said. “It’s kind of neat to see his Pro Bowl jersey as they were putting it together. I think there’s 13 stars for each Pro Bowl he’s been in. It was really impressive to see his nametag with all those starts next to it.”
No-show Niners: Players from the two Super Bowls teams are not at the Pro Bowl this week, of course. But in addition to the Pro Bowl selections from Denver and Seattle, San Francisco’s Pro Bowl contingent also is largely missing.
Eight 49ers players pulled out of the game, citing a variety of ailments and injuries. The only player in the game – rookie safety Eric Reid – is a replacement for the Seahawks’ Kam Chancellor.
“There were a lot of guys that were injured in our last game, so they had to make the decision for themselves,” Reid said. “Obviously, it’s not smart to come out and play another game when you’re hurt. I felt healthy, I felt good. So I had the opportunity to come and I did, and I’m glad to be here.”
Rivera said he understood why the Niners’ players skipped the game.
“Some of them have offseason surgeries. Some of them were just tired and wore out, which is understandable. It’s a long year,” Rivera said. “Like for our guys, we had a bye early and we went 13 straight weeks. And I know San Francisco had their bye, and then they went a long time as well. It’s tough. It really is tough on the body.”