The Carolina Panthers will use the franchise tag on defensive end Greg Hardy, Pro Football Talk first reported, followed immediately by seemingly every other NFL outlet. Good fun, those mass e-mails from agents.
Hardy was the top defensive end set to hit free agency, and could have been a target for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now, that's over with, and instead they'll have to figure out a way to block him AND Charles Johnson AND Star Lotulelei AND Kawann Short on the same play, multiple times in two games each year. Minimum. Oh joy.
Meanwhile, the other top defensive end is Michael Johnson -- who is also expected to be retained by his own team, in this case the Cincinnati Bengals. All-around edge rusher number three is Brian Orakpo, who is likely to hit free agency but is not as good as the aforementioned two, but the closest thing to a top-end every-down defensive end available in free agency.
Behind Orakpo, we get to older players like Justin Tuck, Anthony Spencer and Jared Allen. Players who are on the tail end of their careers, but may have a few more years of pass rushing left in them. The Buccaneers really want to upgrade their pass rush, though, and they don't want to be pigeon-holed into having to pick one in the first round of the draft, so signing at least one of these players is likely to happen.