Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera has just finished the third year on his original four-year contract, which was worth a reported $11.2 million.

If the coach does not get an extension in the offseason, a veil of uncertainty would float over the 2014 season.

You might remember that the last time the Panthers didn’t extend a coach’s contract when it got close to expiring, they let time run out on head coach John Fox – who posted a 2-14 record in his lame-duck year of 2010.

Rivera doesn’t deserve that uncertainty. What he deserves is a new deal.

Does Greg Hardy deserve a new deal of some sort, too? Certainly. The defensive end is otherworldly, and I mean that both in the sense of his physical talents and the fact that he seems to have migrated from another world.

But if I were the Panthers, I don’t give Hardy so much money that I am handcuffed the rest of this offseason.

Hardy is complicated. Do you invest six years and $75 million in a player who calls himself the “Kraken” and jokes about blacking out when his body is taken over by a mythological sea monster?

Maybe you do. The Panthers are undoubtedly a much better team when Hardy – who tied the team record with 15 sacks in 2013, but wasn’t much of a factor in the playoff loss to San Francisco – is crashing in from right defensive end.

But quite possibly the better answer for general manager Dave Gettleman is to use the franchise tag on Hardy, rent him at a high price (likely $12 million or so) for another year and see if he can do what he did in 2013 one more time.

As for Rivera, this one seems a no-brainer. Then again, I love to spend other people’s money.

The coach did a tremendous job in 2013, directing the Panthers to 12 wins, an NFC South division championship and their first playoff spot since 2008. The home playoff loss to San Francisco should not overshadow those accomplishments.

Rivera is a popular coach. Among players, staff, fans or media, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who has had personal contact with Rivera and doesn’t like him. But I’m not writing this because he’s a good guy. I’m writing it because he’s a very good coach, and one who has steadily improved since his rookie year as a head coach in 2011.

Rivera’s teams have gone from 6-10 to 7-9 to 12-5 this past season. He has morphed from a by-the-book, conservative coach to “Riverboat Ron” – a coach who gambles when necessary, manages the clock better in late-game situations and isn’t nearly as predictable as he used to be.

Rivera also makes it no secret that he is still learning to be a great head coach. That is a plateau he has not yet reached. But he has a chance.