Chiefs Release Youngster After Emergency Reunion

Andy Reid

Getty Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid in 2022.

The Kansas City Chiefs reunited with kicker Matthew Wright on January 6 after an injury update on starter Harrison Butker.

Of course, the Chiefs had to create a spot on the practice squad for Wright, and they did so by releasing linebacker Justin Hilliard. Their official Twitter account announced the news ahead of Week 18 versus the Las Vegas Raiders, confirming that both wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Wright would elevated onto the active roster.

Justin Hilliard Doesn’t Last Long in Kansas City

You may be wondering who Hilliard is, being that the former Ohio State linebacker only signed with KC on December 28.

The undrafted prospect won a four-man competition to replace special teamer and LB reserve Elijah Lee, who was poached from the practice squad by the Chicago Bears on December 21. At the time, Hilliard felt like more of a developmental piece considering he only played 15 special teams snaps with the New York Giants before earning a deal with the Chiefs.

Out of college, NFL Network draft expert Lance Zierlein described him as a “major factor as [a] core special-teamer” and a spark plug with a “motor [that] is cranked up to 100 at all times.”

Unfortunately, injuries appear to have derailed Hilliard’s once-promising career and an early PED suspension with the Giants has not helped. We’ll see if the prospect rejoins the Kansas City organization at a later date — roster gymnastics like this are nothing new for general manager Brett Veach and head coach Andy Reid.

Elevations Cast Doubt on Harrison Butker, Mecole Hardman

Obviously, Wright’s elevation should give fans a pretty good idea that Butker might be inactive during the regular season finale. It’s been a rough year for the typically reliable kicker in 2022 and his latest ailment is a bout with back spasms.

Smith-Marsette’s promotion could also mean that wide receiver Mecole Hardman isn’t ready for a full workload upon his return. With rookie Skyy Moore ruled out on Thursday with a hand laceration, the Chiefs will need some depth at the position and there’s no telling how much of an impact Hardman will be able to provide after KC was forced to activate him off the injured reserve this week.

The speedster’s previous “abdomen” issue has been listed as a pelvis injury in Week 18, and Hardman had only been limited in practice leading up to the weekend. If the organization chose not to activate him on Wednesday, he would have been lost for the entirety of the postseason, so Kansas City decided to roll the dice and move him back onto the 53-man roster despite a recent setback.

“He just isn’t ready yet,” Coach Reid stated after said setback. “We’ll keep bringing him along and see how he does.” Hardman will be a player to watch during a sort of playoff preview for the Chiefs offense versus the Raiders.

As for the elevations, Wright is 15-of-15 on extra points and 15-of-18 on field goals in 2022. With Kansas City, he went 11-for-12 on kicking opportunities over two appearances, missing one field goal try from 41 yards out against the Raiders — ironically.

Wright also sent 10-of-13 kickoffs for touchbacks with the Chiefs, averaging a solid 64 yards per kickoff. That number dropped off with the Pittsburgh Steelers, falling to a 61.4 average with just five touchbacks on 23 attempts.

Smith-Marsette has been elevated once before, registering three offensive snaps in Week 14 against the Denver Broncos. The wideout was not targeted by quarterback Patrick Mahomes II during that outing, and he also offers ability on special teams as a potential kick returner should KC need him.

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