- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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BRISTOL, Conn. -- Greg Hardy is styling, "Krakened" out, as he likes to say.
From a dark blazer with a silk lining around the lapel to designer jeans to blue leather sneakers to fashion glasses, the Carolina Panthers' Pro Bowl defensive end looks like he just stepped out of GQ Magazine.
Being featured in the magazine, by the way, is one of his goals.
"I like to look good, bring my own swag to the game, my Kraken swag," Hardy says, referring to the mythical sea creature that has become his alter persona. "I put my own different flavor on it so when Kraken swag, the clothes line, does come ..."
"That's actually coming out soon," Hardy says of his clothing line.
Hardy also is working on the release of his first rap mix album with Styles P "and a lot of big-time music people." After Wednesday's trip to the ESPN campus for a day of television and radio appearances, he returned to Miami for "40 to 60 hours" in the studio.
"You're going to hear me on the radio real soon," Hardy says.
"You'll be shocked," interjects Sammy Curtis, Hardy's manager and right-hand man.
Hardy, 25, looks like a million bucks. Make that 13.1 million bucks, the amount he was guaranteed in 2014 when he signed a franchise tender on Tuesday.
Hardy is having a blast going from one show to the next, introducing ESPN talent to The Kraken. Many remind him of his prediction that he could beat NBA star LeBron James in a game of one-on-one.
"Make it happen," Hardy tells me of the exhibition game as he leaves the ESPN cafeteria.
Hardy also wants his own ESPN commercial like James has. He even has a script in which he, as Kraken, comes out of the watercooler and scares "First Take" co-host Skip Bayless.
"I'd watch that," the woman applying his makeup says.
Some think Hardy is a bit crazy. He's OK with that. It's part of his plan.
Yes, there is a plan.
"I don't want them to understand me, man," Hardy says. "If they think you're dumb, they let you get away with a lot more stuff."
Behind this alter persona that Hardy wears better than designer clothes is arguably the best new self-promoter in the NFL.
Hardy has had to promote himself. It's not easy getting attention when you're a sixth-round draft pick out of Ole Miss with a somewhat troublesome past. That's why he adopted The Kraken, which he hopes turns into a line of Kraken goods.
"I feel if you can't get up in the morning and put on your Kraken suit, walk out of your Kraken house and get in your Kraken car -- that runs on electricity -- and drive down your Kraken street and next to Kraken Blvd. to the McDonald's sponsored by Kraken, then we ain't doing nothing right," Hardy says.
"Why not, man?" Hardy says. "We can go green."
When he's not sacking quarterbacks, which he did a team-best 15 times this past season to earn the franchise tag and leaguewide respect, Hardy is a full-time salesman. The product is him.
But to become the product, he had to perform. He did that with 26 sacks the past two seasons.
Since he's established himself as a player, the marketing side has been much easier. But unlike a lot of athletes who have entire corporations behind them, Hardy and Curtis do most of their own legwork.
"I guarantee you everything that is my career, we did," Hardy says.
The ESPN car wash in many ways is no different from a typical day.
"I'm working," says Hardy, who grew up with little in Memphis, Tenn. "Traveling state to state, city to city, show to show, it's nothing new."
It's a little different. Now Hardy is in demand. He did more interviews in New York City during Super Bowl week than many of the Seahawks and Broncos.
"Yeah, bigger scale, man," Hardy says. "The grind is the same."
It's also more fun. People are starting to recognize Hardy on the street.
"Yeah," he says. "But to be honest, I had a pretty good following, man. Like an underground rapper following."
Curtis interrupts to tell how kids at a few events in New York City ran past other players to get to Hardy, whose face became more recognizable when he introduced himself as "Kraken from Hogwarts" before a Sunday night game against New Orleans.
"I made a lot of key moves as far as the entertainment business goes," Hardy says.
But it's the moves Hardy makes on the field that put him in the spotlight. He's so valuable to the league's second-ranked defense that coach Ron Rivera practically insisted the fourth-year player be retained, even if that meant a tag that would eat up more than half of the team's salary-cap space.
"If you don't have success on the field, then you're back to square one," Hardy says.
Despite the tag number and a promise from the Panthers to negotiate a long-term deal, Hardy remains hungry.
He insists he won't fall into that trap of having a drop-off in performance after getting the big payday.
"You have to have a motivation," Hardy says. "My motivation is to be undeniable. I've got fans of all shapes, sizes and colors that love the hell out of me. My fans are some of the best in the whole entire world.
"But then there are those guys that say ... 'He's an average defensive end.' That's not something I agree with. I feel like I'm in a position to do something about it. So I'm going to make sure by the end of my career I'm undeniable."
On this day, he is undeniably sharp. This look is as important to his brand as the black paint on his face and black contact lenses are on game day.
But Hardy still embraces the bad-boy image that makes him a feared pass-rusher even though his smile suggests otherwise.
"That's just the persona you have to live with," Hardy says. "I have fun. I do what I want to do. It's not going to stop now. It's not going to change.
"I don't think I'm a bad guy. I think I'm awesome."
Nobody will argue that with a Kraken.