THE DALLAS COWBOYS met with free-agent defensive end Greg Hardy yesterday as they explore ways to improve a shaky pass rush from last season.

Hardy's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said the former Pro Bowl player for Carolina was visiting Cowboys headquarters.

The 26-year-old Hardy could be suspended to start the season because of a conviction on two counts of domestic violence in North Carolina. The conviction was dismissed in February when his accuser couldn't be found.

Hardy remains on the commissioner's exempt list as he seeks reinstatement by the NFL. He played in the opener last year before he was suspended. Hardy tied a Carolina franchise record with 15 sacks in 2013.

The NFL has said the 6-4, 275-pound Hardy is free to sign with another team while it investigates his case. League spokesman Greg Aiello said yesterday there was no change in Hardy's status.

The Cowboys were 28th in the NFL in sacks with 28 last season, according to STATS. Jeremy Mincey, a low-cost defensive end added in free agency last year, led Dallas with six sacks, and defensive tackle Henry Melton had five despite battling injuries. Melton signed with Tampa Bay.

Dallas moved up in the second round of last year's draft to grab DeMarcus Lawrence after cutting franchise sacks leader DeMarcus Ware in a salary cap move. But Lawrence missed the first half of the season after breaking a foot in training camp.

Hardy made $13.1 million last season as Carolina's franchise player despite playing just one game.

A judge convicted Hardy last year after a woman testified that Hardy threw her in the bathroom and later onto a futon filled with guns, placed his hands on her throat and threatened to kill her. Hardy denied those allegations, saying the woman became angry when he wouldn't have sex with her.

Mecklenburg County prosecutors tried to get the accuser to testify at Hardy's appeal. But they couldn't find her despite extensive searching after she earlier said she didn't want to testify again.

The NFL's new personal conduct policy, approved by owners after Hardy's conviction, calls for a six-game suspension for first-time violations involving assault, sexual assault and domestic violence. Previously, first-time offenders typically received two-game suspensions.

The league unsuccessfully petitioned courts to have evidence from Hardy's first trial unsealed. Without that evidence, it may be difficult for the league to suspend him.

Noteworthy

* San Francisco linebacker Chris Borland received widespread support on social media from NFL players for his decision to leave football after a stellar rookie season, citing concerns about head trauma.

Typical was this tweet from St. Louis Rams guard Chris Long: "WOW. I loved Chris Borland's game but I can't fault him for calling it quits. His concerns are real. Still it takes a man to do the logical."

The 49ers announced his decision Monday night, without offering specifics. But Borland, 24, told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" earlier in the day he wants to do "what's best for my health."

Borland had a team-leading 108 tackles as a rookie, emerging as a punishing defender. He also had a sack and two interceptions.

"From what I've researched and what I've experienced, I don't think it's worth the risk," Borland said in the interview. "I feel largely the same, as sharp as I've ever been. For me, it's wanting to be proactive. I'm concerned that if you wait till you have symptoms, it's too late."

General manager Trent Baalke said the team was surprised by his move and called Borland a "consummate professional."

The NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month for November, Borland injured an ankle on the final play of the first half against Seattle on Dec. 14 and didn't play again last season.

* Free-agent running back Trent Richardson signed a 2-year deal with Oakland. The third player picked in the 2012 draft, he rushed for 950 yards as a Cleveland rookie but was traded to Indianapolis after two games in 2013 and released by the Colts after rushing for 519 yards in 2014.

* San Diego agreed to terms of a 3-year contract with free-agent wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who had 35 catches for 435 yards and three touchdowns with San Francisco last year.

* San Francisco signed former Buffalo offensive lineman Erik Pears to a two-year contract.

* The New York Giants cut prices for preseason tickets almost in half as part of a new program that will reduce the overall cost of season package slightly for almost all fans. The cost of the regular-season tickets for the eight home games will increase $10-$20 for "non-club" tickets, depending on location, and by $15-$25 for "club" game tickets. The cost of parking will remain $30 per game.

* Prosecutors in the murder trial of ex-New England tight end Aaron Hernandez added bits and pieces to their case against him, presenting an acquaintance who said Hernandez looked angry when he and the victim were at a Boston nightclub days before the killing in June 2013, showing video of headlights moving near the crime scene and putting on a Nike expert who said Hernandez that night was wearing the same kind of shoes that left a footprint where the victim's body was found.