Jets trading Hardman back to Chiefs

Jets wide receiver Mecole Hardman greets Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes before a game earlier this month in East Rutherford, N.J. (Associated Press)
Jets wide receiver Mecole Hardman greets Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes before a game earlier this month in East Rutherford, N.J. (Associated Press)

NEW YORK -- The New York Jets are trading seldom-used wide receiver Mecole Hardman back to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he was part of two Super Bowl-winning teams, a person with knowledge of the deal said Wednesday.

The Jets also are sending a seventh-round pick in the 2025 draft to the Chiefs and getting a sixth-rounder that year in return, according to the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the teams had not announced the trade, which was first reported by ESPN.

The Chiefs selected the 25-year-old Hardman in the second round of the 2019 draft, and he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie as a return specialist. Hardman gradually became a bigger part of the Kansas City offense, taking advantage of prolific passer Patrick Mahomes, and wound up making 151 catches for 2,088 yards and 16 touchdowns during four seasons with the Chiefs.

He became a free agent last offseason and signed a $4-million contract with the Jets, who hoped he could incorporate his speed and versatility into their offense. The deal included a $2.5-million signing bonus and $3.6 million in guarantees.

Hardman had a quiet training camp, and undrafted rookie Xavier Gipson eventually surpassed him on the depth chart as a returner and wide receiver. Gipson had the winning punt return in overtime in New York’s season-opening win against Buffalo and has become more involved in the offense, including running the ball out of the backfield on reverses and end-arounds.

Meanwhile, Hardman played only 28 snaps on offense -- with one 6-yard catch -- and two snaps on special teams. He was a healthy inactive in Week 5 at Denver when the Jets instead elevated wide receiver Irvin Charles from the practice squad because of his special teams skills.

Hardman acknowledged last week his lack of playing time has been “hard sometimes mentally,” but said he was focused on contributing however he could.

“As of now, I guess there’s just maybe better options,” he said. “Or they just haven’t called my number yet.”

Trade speculation centering around Hardman began circulating during the past few weeks.

“I just want to play,” Hardman said. “Whether it’s here or somewhere else, I don’t make that call.”

When asked if he’d welcome a trade, Hardman said: “It depends. If it works out for both sides, I guess, I don’t know. I’ve never been part of this, so I don’t know.”

Kansas City became a natural fit given his background with the Chiefs and their own problems at wide receiver.

They allowed Hardman and veteran JuJu Smith-Schuster to sign elsewhere in free agency, and they were confident that a young and untested group of wide receivers would be able to step up. But while rookie Rashee Rice has started to make more plays, the Chiefs have still gotten little from second-year pro Skyy Moore or oft-injured Kadarius Toney.

Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who is making more than the rest of their wide receivers combined, has failed to make an impact, and the Chiefs lost Justin Watson for the short-term after he bruised an elbow last week against Denver.

Watson did not practice Wednesday and is unlikely to play Sunday against the Chargers.

The Chiefs have won five straight heading into their AFC West matchup with Los Angeles, while the Jets handed the Eagles their first loss last week and are carrying back-to-back wins into their off week.

Hardman should immediately help a Chiefs offense in need of playmakers around Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce.

In his four seasons in Kansas City, Hardman ran the ball 20 times for 125 yards and two scores. He also regularly served as the Chiefs primary returner and scored a touchdown on a kickoff return and a punt.

Last year, Hardman was the first wide receiver in the Super Bowl era to score on two runs and have a TD catch in the same game. He missed several games with an abdominal injury and returned for the AFC championship game before he reinjured himself and couldn’t play in the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win against Philadelphia.