An elite DE gives any team a chance to compete. The best DL's in the league this year all made the playoffs (Panthers, Lions, Cardinals, Seahawks) or were really close (Bills) and JJ Watt practically one manned Houston to a playoff birth despite the horribleness of his surrounding defensive players.
Hardy will be back. It is extremely hard to find DE's that play the run just as good as they pass rush. Gettleman knows that, thats why he franchised Hardy immediately last offseason