The Kansas City Chiefs got that old thing back on Wednesday, trading with the New York Jets to reacquire wide receiver Mecole Hardman. A day after the trade, the 25-year-old was back in Kansas City, taking questions like it was old times — or, you know... last year.
"I missed all y'all guys," Hardman told reporters. "All y'all."
Hardman, drafted in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, spent the first four years of his career with the Chiefs. He was a free agent this past offseason and considered five or six teams — including the Cleveland Browns — before ultimately signing with New York.
Hardman cited the offer (a one-year deal worth up to $6.5 million) and an opportunity to play for the Jets alongside star receiver Garrett Wilson. He also mentioned the Jets had a strong defense. Aaron Rodgers became icing on the cake for Hardman once the quarterback was traded from the Green Bay Packers.
Quick look at Mecole Hardman back in red pic.twitter.com/1R4niOmZAl— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) October 19, 2023
Unfortunately for Hardman — for reasons unbeknownst to him — it did not work out. He played just 28 snaps for the Jets and was a Week 5 healthy scratch. That led to New York seeking a trade.
"I saw [the trade rumor] online," said Hardman. "They were [weighing] options, I guess. After that, I got with my agents, and they said, 'Yeah, there's some talk that they could possibly trade you.' After that, we just started waiting for the inevitable. For real, just seeing what was going to happen. They kept it low-key about the teams who were very interested. I still don't know who all was in that mix. Once I heard it was KC, I was happy to go back somewhere where I was used to — where I've been most of my career."
During his four-year span with the Chiefs, Hardman caught 152 passes for over 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns. He rushed 20 times on the ground for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
When asked about his momentary Jets tenure, he mentioned his respect for the New York coaching staff — and that the time there is simply behind him now. Already back in the Chiefs' playbook, Hardman is optimistic he can take the field against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.
"Hopefully, I could get into a role where I can help out the team any way I can," said Hardman. "Whatever they need me at, whether that's returns, whether that's go out at receiver.
"Hell, if they need me to go on kickoff, let me know. I'm here to help the best way I can."
A role on special teams
Hardman's role will likely start with the special teams unit, especially as he re-acclimates with the offense. Hardman's initial Chiefs tenure saw 62 punt returns and 39 kick returns, which included a touchdown in each role.
On Thursday, special teams coordinator Dave Toub mentioned that Kansas City's last return touchdown was courtesy of Hardman. It came on December 13, 2020, against the Miami Dolphins. So Toub is undoubtedly excited about him being back in red and gold.
"He's a dynamic player," said Toub. "He'll be the fastest player on our team now, as soon as he got here. It's that breakaway speed ability we've seen. The last time we had a touchdown was Mecole in the return game. We welcome him back, and he's got the right attitude right now. He's ready for a fresh start."
But will Hardman return against the Chargers?
"He could," said Toub. "If Andy [Reid] has him up, if he's up. If he has him up, he's going to be a guy who will play on some special teams for sure. But obviously, he just got here, and he's got to get established again, and Andy will make that decision probably pretty soon."
Special teams aside, the Chiefs currently need a receiver on offense, considering Justin Watson (elbow) could miss a few games. With that in mind, offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said it's great to see Hardman back in the building.
"I think now he definitely provides another weapon for us to be able to do some things and see where he's at, and then just go from there as we game plan," explained Nagy, who is also proceeding with caution. "You got to remember, too: A lot of this for him is like riding a bike in jumping back into it. You also just spent several months learning somewhat of a new offense and new terms, so right away, it's not always just super simple.
"It is certainly easier for someone like him that's been here to come back in and go. Plan-wise, see where he's physically, mentally — and then see where we're at, too, with everybody else — and try to fit him in, because he can do some good things for us."
Hardman also brings that unteachable 4.33 Tyreek Hill-like lightspeed to the table, which can be an asset to any offense.
"I know from talking to defensive coordinators over the years, the one thing defensive coordinators fear the most is speed," said Nagy. "When you have speed, it gives you a little bit of an advantage. When you have some other things that go with it, it's even better. He provides that element of speed. He knows the knowledge of the offense, and just as we've been talking and discussing about the other younger guys in learning what they do well, we kind of know what he does well. So that's a step in the right direction for us to be able to fit him in into things that we know that he knows and things that he does well — his strength and weaknesses."
Nagy admitted that there had been conversations since Hardman's departure of ways the Chiefs could have used him had they had another chance. Suddenly, they were presented with that opportunity.
"It's certainly a different speed and another level with Tyreek [and his speed]," said Nagy. "So that's one thing. We all compare to that because he is so rare with that. But at the same point and time, we know that we do have speed in this offense with these players. It's just now, some of these guys are newer to the offense, so how do you figure out using that speed with the routes and all that? [It's] putting it all together."
But there will be time for that. For now, Hardman's happy life has provided him with a reset button.
"A lot of emotions," he said. "Definitely happy to be back with my old team. A lot of familiar faces around here... [I'm] used to a system — so definitely glad to be here."