-- CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The NFL will get to look at what it considers seven key photographs that were submitted into evidence from Greg Hardy's domestic violence case as a part of its investigation into whether the former Carolina Panthers defensive end violated the league's personal conduct policy.
A Mecklenburg County judge on Wednesday signed off on a protective order that will allow the NFL, the NFL Players Association, Hardy and Hardy's attorney to look at the photographs of injuries to the player's former girlfriend, Nicole Holder, without the district attorney's office relinquishing custody of them.
That the NFL has access to the photos is significant because commissioner Roger Goodell and the league will have more information to determine whether Hardy should be disciplined under the personal conduct policy. A source told ESPN's Ed Werder that a final decision should be forthcoming soon, but is not imminent.
The NFL filed suit against the state of North Carolina and District Attorney Andrew Murray in order to seek photos of Holder's injuries, guns in Hardy's Charlotte apartment and other evidence in a July 15 trial after which a Mecklenburg County judge found Hardy guilty of assaulting and threatening to kill Holder in May 2014.
A hearing on the suit was postponed so that both parties could reach an amicable resolution.
Wednesday's order will allow the NFL's investigators, attorneys and medical examiner to look at the photographs, draw conclusions and put those conclusions in a report to the league.
According to the complaint, seven photographs that were submitted into evidence by the state at trial were not a part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department investigative file.
The NFL requested access to those photographs that "are believed to be relevant, credible evidence that may bear on whether the PCP has been violated by Hardy."
"We reached a mutually beneficial agreement where we got the documents we wanted in order to proceed with the disciplinary action," said Charlotte attorney Monroe Whitesides Jr., who filed the complaint on behalf of the NFL.
The league's suit will be dropped within two days after the district attorney makes the seven photographs available for review.
"We appreciate the district attorney's office agreeing to make the information available to us and we look forward to the opportunity to review the photographs," NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said.
Hardy's July verdict was set aside under North Carolina law when the player, now a member of the Dallas Cowboys, asked for a jury trial. That trial, scheduled for Feb. 9, never occurred.
Charges against Hardy were dropped because, according to Murray, Holder refused to cooperate in the investigation after receiving a financial settlement from Hardy.
The NFL then opened its own investigation into whether Hardy, who recently signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys, should be suspended for violating the league's personal conduct code.
Goodell said last Wednesday at the close of the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix that a ruling was expected soon.
"We are trying to get as many facts as we possibly can to make the most informed decision we can so that we can uphold standards that we put forward in our personal conduct policy," Goodell said. "So I expect that that will conclude sometime in the near future and we'll make a decision shortly after."
Hardy remains on the commissioner's exempt list, where he has been since the week prior to Carolina's third game in 2014. The Panthers paid Hardy, who was given the franchise tag, $13.1 million last season to play in only one game.
Dallas signed Hardy to an $11.3 million deal that was structured in a way that the 2013 Pro Bowl selection will not get paid $578,125 for each game missed in 2015. He could be suspended for six games under the conduct policy.