Hardman hospitalized 10 days, lost feeling in legs last season

In this Nov. 6, 2022, file photo, Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman celebrates his touchdown against the Titans with running back Jerick McKinnon (1) at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. (Associated Press)
In this Nov. 6, 2022, file photo, Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman celebrates his touchdown against the Titans with running back Jerick McKinnon (1) at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. (Associated Press)

KANSAS CITY -- Wide receiver Mecole Hardman, who was traded from the New York Jets back to the Kansas City Chiefs this week, said Thursday he spent part of last season in the hospital after an abdominal injury caused him to lose feeling in his legs.

The injury occurred during a game against Tennessee in early November, Hardman said. He finished the game, and it was the following day that he began feeling cramps in his abdomen. The pain was getting worse by the hour, and after Hardman phoned Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder, he was taken to the emergency room and admitted to the hospital.

He lost feeling in his legs for “four or five days,” Hardman said, and was hospitalized two more days after getting it back, before he was finally discharged. Hardman missed the final nine games of the regular season and the Chiefs’ postseason win against Jacksonville, then hurt his groin in the AFC title game against Cincinnati, forcing him to miss their Super Bowl win against Philadelphia.

“It was scary as hell, not being able to move my legs,” Hardman said in his first comments since returning to Kansas City. “It makes you think, ‘Is this it?’ The feeling came back -- the doctor said it would come back, and that gave me hope. But the 10 days I was there, I slept maybe 8 hours or so, 10 hours max, because I was in so much pain.”

Doctors went back and forth on a diagnosis before settling on osteitis pubis, an inflammation of the joint between the left and right pubic bones that causes swelling and pain that extends from the groin to the lower abdomen.

The injury caused Hardman to miss the majority of his contract year, when his rookie deal was ending and he was hoping to land a big payday. He had some interest in free agency from the Browns and several other teams, but he ultimately decided to sign a $4-million prove-it deal with the Jets in part because of the potential to play with Aaron Rodgers.

When the quarterback tore his Achilles tendon in the Jets’ opener, Hardman said that threw their offense into disarray. He barely played the first five games, catching a single pass, and it soon became clear that New York was ready to move on from him.

“I got with my agents and they said there’s some talk they could possibly trade you,” Hardman said. “After that, that’s when we just started waiting for the inevitable, seeing what would happen. They kept it low-key the teams that were interested -- in the mix. When I heard it was Kansas City, I was excited to get back here.”

The Chiefs waived wide receiver Montrell Washington and defensive tackle Keondre Coburn to clear the way for Hardman and defensive end Charles Omenihu, who is expected to be added to the roster after finishing his six-game NFL suspension.

Chiefs coordinators Matt Nagy and Steve Spagnuolo said they hope to get Washington and Coburn on the practice squad.

In the meantime, Hardman is trying to get up to speed in time to play Sunday against the Chargers. He said the playbook has changed little since he was part of the offense, though some of the terminology is different. And while the Chiefs hope he can provide some punch at wide receiver, special teams coordinator Dave Toub also plans to use him as a returner.

“He looks good,” Toub said. “We saw him at the Jets game when we played there. It’s good to see him back in the building. If he’s up (on the gameday roster), he’s going to be a guy that will play on some special teams for sure. But obviously he just got here. He has to get established again, and Andy (Reid) will make that decision pretty soon.”

III

Chiefs punter Tommy Townsend has been dealing with hamstring soreness this season that has landed him on the injury report but has yet to keep him out of a game. That led someone to ask Toub who his backup would be if Townsend went down during a game, and the anticipated answer -- big-legged kicker Harrison Butker -- turned out to be far off base.

“Believe it or not, 15 is our backup punter,” Toub said, referring, of course, to quarterback Patrick Mahomes. “He wants to do it. He shows me all the time. He’s out here on Saturdays booming punts. He wants to do it.”

Incidentally, the backup to Butker is not Townsend but Chiefs safety Justin Reid. He made a PAT in emergency duty last year.

III

Some bragging rights will be on the line tonight when the kids of Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy and defensive backs coach Dave Merritt meet in a high school football game in suburban Kansas City. Nagy’s son, Tate, plays quarterback for Blue Valley West while Merritt’s son, Dawson, is a linebacker for rival Blue Valley.

“They went to Iowa State together on a (recruiting) visit earlier this year,” Merritt said. “Last year they were sophomores; they didn’t know each other. Now they’re both in their junior year. So we’re calling it the Nagy-Merritt Bowl.”