Mecole Hardman rips into Jets, opens Chiefs to potential tampering investigation

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The Kansas City Chiefs are no doubt glad to have acquired Mecole Hardman, who caught the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl LVIII after joining the team in a midseason trade.

But this offseason, he might be a headache for Kansas City.

Hardman joined “The Pivot Podcast” for a wide-ranging interview, and the receiver spoke extensively about his time with the New York Jets. They signed him to a one-year, $4 million deal last offseason after his underwhelming first four years with the Chiefs. But not long after New York added Hardman, the two sides were unhappy. 

Aaron Rodgers‘ season-ending injury on opening night made for widespread dysfunction within the Jets organization, including for the team’s pass-catchers. But Hardman seemed like a particularly bad match for New York. Undrafted rookie Xavier Gipson passed him on the depth chart, and Hardman was largely a non-factor on offense. When the relationship fell apart beyond repair, the Jets traded him back to the Chiefs. 

But before that? It sounds like — behind the scenes — Hardman might have touched base with Kansas City.

“I was so checked out, like, it was over with. I had already talked to [KC GM Brett] Veach and Pat [Mahomes], like, ‘Come get me,'” Hardman said during his appearance on “The Pivot.” 

That sounds a lot like tampering.

Per the NFL’s policy: “The term tampering, as used within the National Football League, refers to any interference by a member club with the employer-employee relationship of another club or any attempt by a club to impermissibly induce a person to seek employment with that club or with the NFL.”

In other words: So long as Hardman was a Jet, he wasn’t allowed to speak with Veach or Mahomes about playing for the Chiefs.

Prior to making those comments in the conversation with Ryan Clark and Channing Crowder, Hardman told the story of when his frustration reached a peak with the Jets. During a special teams meeting, a coach called him out for repeated drops during practice.

“He exposed me in front of the whole special teams, like, ‘Look at this bulls— right here,'” Hardman said. “Showing my drops on the punt return. … Then comes the game and you want me to return punts for you. Nah. [They’re] telling me I’m going to remember it. ‘What you going to do, bro? I’m not starting. I’m fitting to leave. So what’s the worst you can do to me?'”

As reporters found Hardman’s quote about contacting both Veach and Mahomes and it gained traction, the receiver took to social media to change his story.

“Never had talks with KC before the trade, so we can CLEAR THAT UP! The Jets handled my trade on their own and did the right thing by sending me back to KC!” he posted on X (formerly Twitter).

That’s not likely to put out the fire. It seems Hardman’s initial comments might still be enough for the league to mount an investigation. And the Jets could apply some pressure to ensure the NFL does its due diligence.

“Those are comments that definitely resonated with us,” Jets general manager Joe Douglas told reporters at the combine on Wednesday when asked about Hardman’s potential tampering.

It wasn’t the only bit of commotion Hardman caused during his appearance on podcast — even if none of his other comments will spark an NFL investigation.

Hardman compared what he saw in Kansas City, where he felt players were treated equally, to New York, where he said there was favoritism for certain players. And he chalked that up, in part, to a lack of leadership on the offensive side of the ball.

Prior to the NFL season, the Jets fired former offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur and placed Nathaniel Hackett in the role. But Hackett didn’t provide the substantial upgrade the Jets thought they were getting. With Rodgers injured, Hackett had to work with roughly the same group of players as LaFleur, including quarterback Zach Wilson.

New York finished the season second to last in yards per game (268.6) and fourth worst in points per game (15.8).

“You just got a new [offensive] coaching staff that came in and there’s no standard there. Everybody does what they want to do,” Hardman said on “The Pivot.” “Granted, the defense has more of a stabilized standard with the coaching staff on that side, so the defense has a standard. But the offense is just like, ‘We’ll just figure it out. It’s Aaron’s show. Let Aaron do what Aaron does.’ Then when Aaron goes down, it’s like, ‘We don’t know what to do.'”

Mecole Hardman calls out the Jets’ culture: “No standard there”

Hardman didn’t stop there. During his tenure with the Jets, he was used as either WR4 or WR5. In the first three weeks, New York used him more than Gipson. But in Week 4, the Jets clearly favored the rookie in snaps — putting Hardman behind Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and Gipson. And behind the scenes, Hardman felt he was getting mixed messages from the coaching staff.

“I meet with you and you’re like, ‘I’m going to get you some plays. I’m going to get you in the game plan.’ But I played two plays. You can’t tell me that. I’d rather you tell me, ‘I think these guys are better than you and we’ll figure you out later.’ I can take that. I’m a grown-ass man. I understand that. 

“But when you keep feeding me lies and telling me certain stuff, then that’s when it don’t sit right for me. Because I know for a fact I’m better than him and I’m better than him for sure. Garrett Wilson is the only person ya’ll should be like — he’s one of them guys. … But when it comes to certain other things, I don’t understand why I’m not in the rotation with that. They never gave me a reason as to why.”

Hardman spent six games with the Jets, but he played zero snaps in two of those games. His season-high was 14 in Week 2, and he finished with just 28 total snaps in his entire tenure in New York. 

When asked about Hardman’s criticism of the Jets during a press conference at the combine, Douglas chalked up the receiver’s eventual exit to the emergence of Gipson.

Jets punter Thomas Morstead, however, took to Twitter on Wednesday to punch back for the Jets.

“Be careful getting information from disgruntled former employees,” Morstead wrote. “Getting beat out by a rookie free agent after being guaranteed millions of dollars is tough to deal with. Entitlement is a killer of opportunity. You have to earn it every year.”

The good news is that Hardman never has to rejoin the Jets. The bad news is that he’s a pending free agent. It’ll be interesting to see if this spat influences the Chiefs’ interest in re-signing him — or the league-wide interest in the receiver.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @henrycmckenna.

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