Jets add WR Mecole Hardman, trade Elijah Moore to Browns
FLORHAM PARK, NJ — Adding draft capital for a potential Aaron Rodgers trade, the New York Jets traded wide receiver Elijah Moore to the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday. Almost simultaneously, they finalized a free agent deal with his replacement, former Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman.
The Jets sent Moore and their 2023 third-round pick (No. 74 overall) to the Browns for their second-round pick (No. 42). The Jets now have two second-round picks (Nos. 42 and 43), which they can use as ammunition in their bid to acquire Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers.
A week ago, Rodgers expressed his intention to play for the Jets in 2023, but the two teams failed to agree on compensation.
Hardman has agreed to a one-year contract, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. He may be worth up to $6.5 million, a source said. Hardman can replace Moore as the Jets’ slot receiver.
Finding another deep threat for quarterback Deshaun Watson was Cleveland’s offensive priority this offseason. The Browns were interested in Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, a source told ESPN’s Jake Trotter, but were able to swing the deal for Moore instead.
Moore requested a trade in October because he was unhappy with his role in the offense. He was so frustrated that he blasted then-offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur before a midweek practice and was sent home to cool off, sources said. Hours later, his trade request became public. At the time, the Jets said they would not honor his request and they benched him that week against the Denver Broncos.
Moore’s production improved in the second half of the season, but his overall numbers were disappointing — 37 catches, 446 yards and a touchdown. Midway through the season, he went through a four-game streak when he had just one reception.
A second-round pick in 2021, Moore was considered a key part of the Jets’ foundation, especially after a promising rookie year (43 catches, 538 yards, 5 touchdowns). The Jets’ plans have evolved over the past few weeks as they changed offensive coordinators and decided to shake up the receiving corps. They replaced LaFleur with Nathaniel Hackett and caused a stir last week when they signed Allen Lazard, formerly of the Green Bay Packers.
Lazard and Hardman join NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson as the top three receivers. The Jets also have Corey Davis and Denzel Mims, both entering the final year of their contact. They could be released or traded in the coming weeks. Leaving Davis would create a $10.5 million cap, which may be needed to complete a trade for Rodgers.
Moore was the Jets’ primary slot receiver, a position in which Hardman excelled for the Chiefs. In fact, 10 of Hardman’s 16 receiving touchdowns have come out of the slot, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The Jets have expressed interest in free agent wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. It’s unclear if Hardman’s arrival prevents them from signing Beckham.
Hardman, 25, played in eight games for the Chiefs during the 2022 regular season, catching 25 passes for 297 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed for 31 yards and two touchdowns.
He missed the final nine games of the regular season and the Chiefs’ Divisional Round playoff game with what the team called a pelvis injury. He came back to catch two passes for 10 yards in the AFC Championship Game but missed Super Bowl LVII.
Hardman underwent surgery Feb. 21 to repair a groin and pelvic area injury, which means he will likely miss the Jets’ offseason schedule.
Hardman joined the Chiefs as a second-round draft pick in 2019. His best season came in 2021, when he set career highs with 59 receptions and 693 yards.
Hardman, who also returned a kickoff and punt for a touchdown during his time with the Chiefs, has 151 career receptions for 2,088 yards and 16 touchdowns.
He is the second notable receiver to leave the Chiefs in free agency, joining JuJu Smith-Schuster, who signed a three-year contract with the New England Patriots.
ESPN’s Adam Teicher contributed to this report.