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Only Kadarius Toney can define his reputation

It has been a newsworthy few days for the Chiefs’ No. 1 receiver-to-be.

NFL: FEB 12 Super Bowl LVII - Eagles vs Chiefs Photo by Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s 2023. Imitative technology has never been so astonishingly convincing — and pro athletes can have their social media accounts hacked.

But with all of that said, I have more-than-likely presumptions about recent online incidents involving Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Kadarius Toney.

Whether or not he was hacked during these past few days, Toney has recently been forthcoming with criticism of the New York Giants, who opted to trade him to the Chiefs last October in exchange for two draft picks. During that span, the Giants have witnessed both the bad and the good they saw during his short time in New York.

During the 2023 season, Toney missed a chunk of Kansas City’s games due to injury — just as he did in New York. Then, once healthy, he flashed the ability that made him a first-round draft pick — a talent he showcased for the Giants in a 189-yard effort against the Dallas Cowboys.

I have noted on these pages and podcast waves that I’m not sure the Chiefs would have won last year’s Super Bowl without Toney’s “corndog” touchdown, and — even more importantly in my mind — his 65-yard punt return, because that special-teams play morphed a see-saw championship game into one well in Kansas City’s control.

At that moment, Giants fans had to be happy. Nobody wants to see a bitter division rival such as the Philadelphia Eagles win its second championship in five years. Toney helped to prevent that. And eventually, the Giants turned one of the draft picks into tight end Darren Waller.

It felt like a win-win for both sides. Until it wasn’t.

In a social media video that certainly wasn’t hacked, Toney joked that he would place his Super Bowl ring on his middle finger — and that was for everybody in New York.

We’ll never know exactly what his state of mind was at the time, but I would estimate that it’s no more complex than a 24-year-old trying to wrap his head around two years of a professional career that likely felt like sudden failure as a first-rounder under the extreme microscope to an instant breath of fresh air and success in the blink of an eye... intense criticism in one of the NFL’s toughest markets to immediate payoff as a role player with one of the greatest quarterbacks (and head coaches) of all time.

I’m not sure many of us would handle that scenario correctly.

Regardless of what has happened the past few days, what is well known (and well talked about) is that to repeat as champions, Kansas City needs Toney. That repeat is the only thing that has eluded the club during its four-year run as the NFL’s best franchise.

In these kinds of situations, I often wonder what it would be like to listen to the phone call that surely happened between Toney and head coach Andy Reid during the last 24 to 36 hours (And yes, we know that call took place).

I’d imagine Reid’s message to Toney was to embrace the receiver’s personality and encourage it to continue to show — but more so on the field. Via the new Netflix “Quarterback” series, I anticipate we will learn more about Patrick Mahomes’ fiery nature on the field — and further appreciate his class off of it.

That is a much tougher lesson to teach during the offseason — especially to a young player who is not in the building. You can disagree, but this is my feeling about all this situation comes down to.

Toney is very young, very talented and very overwhelmed — and he might be very similar to a particular young tight end who said a referee didn’t belong in a Foot Locker after a meaningful game during his 20s.

Had these circumstances transpired during a game week, it would be a story forgotten in days. Two months before opening night, it has captured the eyes — and ire — of many.

In the end, I just don’t think this is something we’re talking about in a decade’s time. But whether that is the case is not up to you or me.

Instead, it’s up to Toney. Only he can define his own reputation.

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