The Kansas City Chiefs only have one wide receiver on the roster that has been with the organization prior to the 2021 season: Mecole Hardman.
This offseason, the Chiefs traded away wide receiver Tyreek Hill and lost Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson to free agency. They added receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling via free agency, and Skyy Moore via the draft. They also signed undrafted rookie Justyn Ross.
With so many new faces in Kansas City, it will take time for quarterback Patrick Mahomes to develop chemistry with them. However, Mahomes will already be in sync with Hardman thanks to four years of working together.
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Hardman, the 56th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, registered a career-high 59 catches on 83 targets for 693 yards and 2 touchdowns, per Pro Football Reference. That’s all while Tyreek Hill (159) and Travis Kelce (134) were the top target-getters 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 line for a big contract next offseason. With 240 available targets heading into the season, Hardman has the opportunity to soak up some of those and record career-high numbers for the second straight season.
Hardman Calls Out Chiefs Coaching Staff
Fully aware of the opportunity in front of him, Hardman sent a message to Kansas City’s coaching staff via Adam Teicher of ESPN.
“The opportunity is bigger,” Hardman told Teicher on May 24 of his situation in wake of the Hill trade. “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 for that.
“A once-in-a-generation type of player has left the team so somebody’s got to step up and fill a role. … I just want to be better than I was last year, get better as an overall receiver, kind of establish my name a little bit more. Catching the ball, running routes, yards after catch, everything I’m trying to improve on.”
While Hardman is doing what he can to prepare himself for a contract year, he has made one thing clear: It’s ultimately up to Kansas City’s coaching staff to decide how much he’s utilized in the post-Tyreek Hill era. That in turn will determine how his career plays out once his rookie contract expires following the 2022 season.
Chiefs Expect Hardman to be Patient on Extension Talks
Hardman could try to cash in via an extension this offseason due to a hot market financially for wide receivers right now and in case he doesn’t produce to expectation for whatever reason in 2022. But Kansas City general manager Brett Veach doesn’t think Hardman and his representation are running to the table to start those conversations. That wouldn’t be in their best interest, according to Veach.
“It’s a good question,” Veach said to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk on May 9 when asked about the timing of a Hardman extension. “I think one of the things that makes it more difficult is just where this receiver market went. On one hand, we can sit there and come up with something that makes sense for us and him. But on the other hand, when you come off of free agency period with these numbers were so high and there’s also the mindset or thought process of the cap will only get bigger now.
“I think it’ll probably tend to go in the direction where the agents and the players want to wait and if last year’s any indication of where this thing’s going to go, at some point it’ll kind of flatline out and things will become more balanced in regards to getting stuff done ahead of time. We’ll certainly have those type of conversations, but I think that if this offseason tipped its hand it’s more in the lines of the agent and the player just saying, ‘Well, might as well just wait.’ A lot of players benefitted from waiting and I think until that flatlines and settles down, I think there’ll be more of a desire for probably the agents more so to wait and play it out.”