The Kansas City Chiefs only have one wide receiver on the list who was with the organization prior to the 2021 season: Mecole Hardman.
That offseason, the Chiefs traded wide receiver Tyreek Hill, losing Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson to free hands. They added recipients JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling via free agency and Skyy Moore via draft. They also signed undrafted rookie Justyn Ross.
With so many new faces in Kansas City, it will be some time before quarterback Patrick Mahomes develops chemistry with them. However, Mahomes will already be in sync with Hardman thanks to a four-year collaboration.
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Hardman, the 56th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, recorded a career-high 59 catches on 83 goals for 693 yards and 2 touchdowns, according to Pro Football Reference. All while Tyreek Hill (159) and Travis Kelce (134) were the top scorers on the team.
Hardman is in the final year of his rookie deal with Kansas City, which means a strong 2022 season could put him in doubt for a big deal next offseason. With 240 available pre-season targets, Hardman has the opportunity to soak up some of them and set career highs for the second straight season.
Fully aware of the opportunity at hand, Hardman sent a message to the Kansas City coaching staff through ESPN’s Adam Teicher.
“The opportunity is greater,” Hardman Teicher said on May 24 of his post-hill trade situation. “It’s up to the coaches, the coaching staff, to really see how they want to use me this year. It’s up to me to be prepared.
“A unique type of player left the team, so someone has to step up and fill a role. … I just want to be better than last year, get better as an overall receiver, establish my name a little bit more. Catching the ball, running routes, yards after catching, everything I’m trying to improve on.
While Hardman is doing what he can to prepare for a contract year, he’s made one thing clear: it’s ultimately up to the Kansas City coaching staff to decide how much he’ll be deployed in the post-Tyreek Hill era. That, in turn, will determine how his career unfolds once his rookie contract expires after the 2022 season.
Hardman could be looking to cash in overtime this offseason given the hot market for wide receivers right now and if for some reason he doesn’t produce as expected in 2022. But Kansas City general manager Brett Veach doesn’t believe in Hardman and his rep races to the table to start those talks. That wouldn’t be in their best interests, according to Veach.
“That’s a good question,” Veach told Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio on May 9 when asked about the timing of a Hardman renewal. “I think one of the things that makes it more difficult is where this receiver market has gone. On the one hand, we can sit there and come up with something that makes sense to us and him. But on the other hand, if you’re coming from the free agency days, those numbers were so high, and there’s also the cap mindset or thought process, which is only getting bigger now.
“I think it’s probably going to tend to go in the direction that the agents and the players want to wait, and if there’s any indication over the last year of where this thing is headed, it’s going to kind of flatline at some point give and things become more balanced in terms of getting things done ahead of time. We’re certainly going to have those kinds of conversations, but I think if this offseason is any tip, it’s more down to the lines from the agent and the player just saying, “Well, we might as well just wait.” A lot of players have benefited from waiting, and I think until that levels off and levels off, Agents will probably have more of a desire to wait and play it out.