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NFL saw photos before suspending Greg Hardy; source says Cowboys didn’t see …

Greg Hardy before a court appearance in February (AP Photo/Chris Keane)

(Updated 9:54 p.m.) The NFL viewed photographs associated with Greg Hardy’s domestic violence case, depicting injuries suffered by Hardy’s former girlfriend, before issuing the 10-game suspension of the former Pro Bowl defensive end that later was reduced on appeal. But a person familiar with the Dallas Cowboys’ internal deliberations said the team had not seen the set of photos showing the injuries that was released publicly Friday before deciding to sign Hardy to a one-year contract last offseason.

It was not clear Friday if the just-released photographs associated with the case were viewed by arbitrator Harold Henderson, who reduced Hardy’s suspension under the personal conduct policy from 10 to four games after Hardy appealed through the NFL Players Association.

Deadspin published photographs Friday associated with Hardy’s case, in which he initially was found guilty by a judge of threatening and assaulting his former girlfriend. Hardy exercised his right to a jury trial on appeal. As the jury trial was about to begin, prosecutors dropped the charges against Hardy, saying his former girlfriend was refusing to cooperate and citing knowledge of a financial settlement between her and Hardy.

Hardy, then with the Carolina Panthers, missed all but one game of last season after agreeing to be placed on what amounted to paid leave while on the NFL’s exempt-commissioner’s permission list. Last offseason, the Cowboys signed him as a free agent to a one-year deal that could have been worth as much as approximately $13.1 million over a full season. The contract included a base salary of $750,000, which ended up being reduced to about $573,000 because of Hardy’s four-game suspension, and roster bonuses of about $578,000 per game.

The NFL, as part of its investigation of the Hardy case, examined photographs that reportedly showed injuries sustained by Hardy’s girlfriend. The Charlotte Observer reported in April that prosecutors allowed NFL representatives to view seven photographs that were not in the police case file previously turned over to the league. The NFL had filed a lawsuit attempting to obtain the photographs. The photographs remained in the prosecutors’ possession but were made available to NFL medical experts, Hardy and the NFLPA, according to the Observer.

The person with knowledge of the Cowboys’ deliberations said the “photos were not accessible to the team.”

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones confirmed in a written statement released later Friday that the team did not see the photographs of the injuries before signing Hardy.

“While we did not have access to the photos that became public today, we were and are aware of the serious nature of this incident,” Jones said. “We as an organization take this very seriously. We do not condone domestic violence. We entered into the agreement with Greg fully understanding that there would be scrutiny and criticism. We have given Greg a second chance. He is a member of our team and someone who is grateful for the opportunity he has been given to move forward with his life and his career.”

Another person with knowledge of the case called the issue of whether Henderson viewed the photos depicting the injuries to Hardy’s former girlfriend a “confidential” matter. That person said he was unable to verify the contention that the Cowboys did not view the photos showing the injuries.

During its appeal of Hardy’s suspension, the union argued to Henderson that the league could not impose such a lengthy suspension on Hardy and could not apply the standards of the sport’s revised personal conduct policy to a case that began before those revisions. The NFL contended that its 10-game suspension of Hardy was warranted under either version of the personal conduct policy. Henderson sided with the union and reduced the suspension.

The union declined to comment Friday through a spokesman. Union officials previously have stressed that their appeals of the league’s disciplinary measures in the Hardy, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson cases were designed to uphold the players’ rights to due process and fair punishment under the collective bargaining agreement.

Hardy has played three games for the Cowboys since serving his suspension, being credited with 12 tackles and three sacks. He has been involved in controversies this season for comments that he made regarding Gisele Bundchen, the wife of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and for a sideline confrontation with Cowboys special teams coach Rich Bisaccia followed by a heated exchange with teammate Dez Bryant. Jones and Garrett generally have defended Hardy’s behavior this season, drawing criticism from some observers.

The NFL, the Baltimore Ravens and Rice were criticized sharply last year after a video showing Rice striking his then-fiancée inside an Atlantic City hotel elevator was released publicly. The NFL suspended Rice indefinitely, after previously suspending him for just two games, and the Ravens released him. Rice later was reinstated on appeal but has not been signed by another NFL team.

The extent of the public’s reaction to the photographs in Hardy’s case — and the consequences of that reaction, if any — remains to be seen.

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