(SportsNetwork.com) - The legal system threw Roger Goodell a curveball Monday and it was no ordinary hanging one, it was more like a 12-to-6 top-spin job that dropped off a table.
Domestic violence charges against Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy were dismissed by the Mecklenburg County district attorney's office after Hardy's accuser, ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder, did not show up for a hearing.
In a statement explaining the decision, district attorney Andrew Murray said he believed Hardy and Holder reached a civil settlement and she "intentionally made herself unavailable to the State."
Translation -- Hardy paid Holder off to go away.
Murray claimed his office went to "extraordinary measures" to find Holder, including staking out her known addresses and appealing to relatives in an effort to have her come forward.
They didn't check Facebook, however. Holder posted pictures from around the country in recent months, snowmobiling in Vail, Colorado, shopping in Atlanta and posing in New York City's Grand Central Station.
Hardy originally requested the jury trial back in July after Mecklenburg District Court Judge Rebecca Thorne Tin found the star pass rusher guilty of assaulting and threatening to kill Holder.
Under North Carolina law, which is far different than most states, Hardy's appeal set aside the guilty verdict and everything reverted back to square one, meaning Holder's testimony was a necessity to prove the case.
"Due to the circumstances of this case, the victim's testimony would have been critical evidence for the jury to consider," Murray said
Prosecutors haven't spoken with Holder since November when she indicated that she was no longer interested in pursuing the matter.
"Without her testimony, in this particular instance, the State could not proceed," the district attorney's office said.
Hardy would have been subjected to a minimum six-week suspension by the NFL under the league's "new personal-conduct policy" if found guilty, but now he's been exonerated in a legal sense, something that certainly doesn't erase the ugliness of the incident.
Hardy was arrested last May after police were called to his Charlotte residence and Holder alleged that she had been physically assaulted and threatened by the former Pro Bowl selection.
According to court documents, Holder said a "short-lived" relationship with rapper Nelly led to the incident in which she accused Hardy of tossing her on a "couch covered in assault rifles and/or shotguns," while threatening to kill her.
Three days after the arrest, Hardy turned in 10 different assault weapons and shotguns, all which were possessed legally.
In the July hearing in front of Tin, Hardy's legal team claimed that its 6- foot-4, 275-pound client was the one abused by Holder, a 24-year-old cocktail waitress.
"He looked me in my eyes and he told me he was going to kill me," countered Holder. "I was so scared I wanted to die. When he loosened his grip slightly, I just said, 'Do it. Kill me.'"
Tin ruled that Hardy did beat Holder and attempted to mask his actions with a fabricated 911 call, sentencing him to 18 months' probation and a suspended jail sentence of 60 days.
The appeal bought Hardy time and he and the Panthers initially planned on him playing while the legal process played out, a strategy derailed by the public backlash after other high-profile domestic-violence incidents, involving players like Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, enveloped the league.
Hardy played only one game last season but received his full salary of $13.1 million from the Panthers after being placed on the commissioner's exempt list.
The NFL is now mulling its next move, saying Hardy's situation remains unchanged after Monday's developments and he will stay on the commissioner's exempt list for the time being until the league can fully review the matter.
Hardy, however, is scheduled to become a free agent on March 10 and while Carolina is not expected to pursue the veteran due to the potential public- relations backlash, others are likely salivating because from a pure football standpoint, a pass rusher of this caliber rarely hits the open market.
The Peterson incident has already exemplified the league's belief that the commissioner's exempt list is not a "punishment," meaning Hardy would still be in line for a potential suspension.
Peterson did plead no contest to child abuse charges, innocuous as they might have seemed from a legal perspective. Hardy, on the other hand, despite being accused of doing unspeakable things skated thanks to a fat checkbook.
Despite what you may have heard, the NFL's personal-conduct policy is essentially unchanged. It's really not "new," nor has it been collectively bargained, and it still enables the commissioner to discipline a player without a conviction.
In short, Goodell is as powerful as ever, just like he was before unilaterally implementing "standard punishments" in an effort to ensure more consistency.
What he isn't is credible.
A rubber stamp from the court system in Hardy's case would have made it very easy for Goodell. Now, it's all on him -- if he's too heavy-handed, the NFLPA will be on the warpath. And it's the commish is too liberal with his punishment, the casual fans will be back with their torches and pitchforks.
It's another sticky wicket for the commissioner, whose disastrous '14 calendar year robbed him of the ability to handle these kinds of matters without controversy.