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Social media war between Mecole Hardman, Jets players could bring investigation

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By: John Dixon

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

In recent days, Kansas City’s free agent wide receiver has been embroiled in controversy.

After the Kansas City Chiefs’ free agent wide receiver Mecole Hardman caught the walk-off touchdown pass that sealed the team’s 25-22 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII, he’s had an elevated public profile.

In an interview on ABC-TV’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” he described the team’s post-game victory party and acknowledged he had been lucky to return to his original team after beginning the season with the New York Jets.

“Glad to come back to the team that drafted me — and glad they wanted to trade for me,” he told Kimmel.

While being interviewed on “The Dan Patrick Show,” Hardman revealed that he “blacked out” after making the game-winning catch — and then “snapped back into reality” when quarterback Patrick Mahomes hugged him in the end zone.

But neither of those interviews have raised more of a ruckus than the one he gave earlier this week on Ryan Clark’s podcast, “The Pivot.”

ESPN’s New York Jets beat reporter Rich Cimini got the ball rolling down the mountainside on Tuesday afternoon. In a long post on X (formerly Twitter), Cimini quoted Hardman on how the Jets’ offense had collapsed after new quarterback Aaron Rodgers had been injured in the first game of the season.

“You just got a new (offensive) coaching staff that came in and there’s no standard there,” Hardman told Clark, Fred Taylor and Channing Crowder. “Everybody does what they want to do. 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.”

But according to Cimimi’s post, Hardman’s dissatisfaction with the Jets didn’t end with the team’s offensive problems.

Hardman said he refused to return punts [in the game against the Chiefs] because he felt [special teams coordinator] Brant Boyer had misled him about the punt-returning job in camp, and that he didn’t have enough time to prepare when asked on the night of the KC game to step in for Xavier Gipson, who had tweaked an ankle a few days earlier. Hardman said he was dealing with his own injury (hyperextended pinky) that made it tough to catch. He said [Jets head coach Robert] Saleh tried to convince him to do it, but Hardman said he told him, “I’m not catching for that man (Boyer).”

This was the background for Cimini’s “money quote.”

Hardman candidly admitted that, by that point, “I was so checked out, like, it was over with. I had already talked to [Kansas City general manager Brett] Veach and Pat, like, ‘Come get me.’” Two weeks later, he was traded back to KC.

Naturally, this statement — which at the very least, suggested an improper contact between Hardman and Veach — was not well received by the Jets or their fans. But when asked at the NFL Combine whether the Jets would ask the league to investigate the possibility that the Chiefs had engaged in tampering, New York general manager Joe Douglas remained vague.

“I’ll just say those are comments that definitely resonated with us,” said Douglas, per The New York Post.

In an X post, Hardman has denied he had improper conversations with Kansas City.

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!

But in a (since deleted) X post less than 24 hours after Cimini’s, the Jets’ cornerback Sauce Gardner raised the stakes, appearing to accuse Hardman of leaking New York’s game plan to the Philadelphia Eagles before their Week 6 matchup.

In another social media post, Jets’ tight end Kenny Yeboah also accused Hardman of leaking his team’s game plans to fellow Georgia alumni on the Philidelphia team.

He’s is tripping out, he ain’t talk about his own work ethic and how the Georgia eagles got our game plan.

Hours later, SNY’s Jets beat reporter Connor Hughes raised the stakes even further, posting a report referring to a “validated belief” by “several” New York players (mentioning Gardner and Yeboah by name) that Hardman had leaked game plans for not only the Eagles game, but also the Week 4 game against the Chiefs.

But even Hughes was quick to note that the results of both games didn’t lend much credence to the claim.

Ironically, the Eagles victory was arguably the best of the season for the Jets while Zach Wilson enjoyed the best game of his career against the Chiefs.

Where is this headed?

This has now gone beyond a social media tiff between players from competing teams. Hardman’s statement on “The Pivot” is likely to generate an official NFL investigation into a tampering charge. As we learned back in 2016 — when Kansas City was docked third and sixth-round draft picks (and fined $250,000) for an improper contract with Jeremy Maclin while he was under contract with the Eagles — tampering is something the league takes very seriously.

While the accusation that Hardman leaked game plans to opposing teams seems less credible, it’s not hard to imagine that the league will want to simultaneously investigate that charge as well.

But even if neither inquiry results in disciplinary action, this incident has not shown Hardman in a positive light. It’s worth wondering if the Chiefs — or any other team — will want to sign him.

Originally posted on Arrowhead Pride