Mecole Hardman

2023 Top 50 NFL Free Agents

Super Bowl LVII provided the latest example of the value free agency can bring. The Chiefs revamped their receiving corps on last year’s market, while the Eagles acquired three defensive starters — including sack leader Haason Reddick. The Jaguars also used a March 2022 splurge to ignite their surprising surge to the divisional round.

Beginning with the legal tampering period, which starts at 3pm CT on Monday, and continuing with the official start to free agency (3pm Wednesday), the next several days represent a highlight on the NFL calendar. Which teams will change their 2023 outlooks for the better next week?

While the 2023 free agent class has absorbed its share of body blows and indeed lacks depth at certain spots, a few positions will bring waves of starter-level talent. Right tackle will invite some big-money decisions, and the safety and off-ball linebacker positions feature considerable depth. A few ascending talents and hidden gems appear in this class as well.

This list ranks free agents by earning potential. In terms of accomplishments, Bobby Wagner, Fletcher Cox and Lavonte David would lap most of the players included here. With each defender going into his age-33 season, however, the standouts’ ability to command big contracts is certainly not what it once was.

In terms of possible destinations, not every team is represented equally. Some teams will bring more needs and cap space into this year’s marketplace than others. With some help from Adam La Rose, here is this year’s PFR top 50 free agents list, along with potential landing spots for each player.

1. Orlando Brown Jr., T. Age in Week 1: 27

As the 49ers did two years ago with Trent Williams, the Chiefs will let Brown hit the market. This could end up benefiting the veteran tackle, who was offered a deal with an average annual value north of Williams’ tackle-record $23MM per year before last July’s franchise tag deadline. Citing insufficient guarantees, Brown turned it down. Kansas City’s offer did contain a bloated final year to bump up the AAV to $23.1MM, but will Brown – a quality left tackle but not a top-shelf option at the position – do as well this year? He will soon find out.

Brown has now made four Pro Bowls and carries positional versatility that would intrigue were he open to a return to right tackle, which by all accounts he is not. The 363-pound blocker can struggle against speed-rusher types, but he is set to be the rare accomplished left tackle in his prime to hit the market. The Chiefs sent a package including a first-round pick to the Ravens for Brown, whose bet on himself led to a $16.6MM tag and an open market. The bidding will run high, though it might not reach the places the Williams pursuit did in 2021.

The Chiefs’ exclusive negotiating rights with Brown end March 13; they have had nearly two years to complete a deal. The market will determine if the league views the sixth-year blocker as an elite-level left tackle or merely a good one. Then again, bidding wars drive up the prices for O-linemen on the market. O-line salary records have fallen four times (Williams, Corey Linsley, Joe Thuney, Brandon Scherff) in free agency since 2021. This foray could give Brown the guaranteed money he seeks, and it puts the Chiefs at risk of seeing their two-year left tackle depart. The Ravens also passed on this payment back in 2021, in part because they already had Ronnie Stanley on the payroll.

The defending champions have Brown and right tackle Andrew Wylie eligible for free agency; some of their leftover funds from the Tyreek Hill trade went to Brown’s tag. Although some among the Chiefs were frustrated Brown passed on last year’s offer, the team will be hurting at a premium position if he walks. Given the importance the blindside position carries, fewer teams are in need compared to right tackle. The Titans losing Taylor Lewan and continuing to clear cap space could point to a run at Brown, though the team has a few needs up front. The Jets likely have needs at both tackle spots. Would the Bears relocate Braxton Jones to the right side? Ryan Poles was with the Chiefs when they traded for Brown, and the Bears could outmuscle anyone for cap space.

Best fits: Titans, Chiefs, Commanders

2. Mike McGlinchey, T. Age in Week 1: 28

Teams in need of right tackles will participate in one of the more interesting markets in recent memory. Above-average-to-good offensive linemen do well in free agency annually, and this year will send three experienced right tackles in their prime to the market. A five-year starter in San Francisco and former top-10 pick, McGlinchey has a good case as the best of this lot. The five-year vet’s run-blocking craft eclipses his pass-protection chops exiting Year 5, but he will walk into a competitive market. The former Notre Dame left tackle should have a lucrative deal in place during next week’s legal tampering period.

Although mutual interest existed regarding a second 49ers-McGlinchey agreement, John Lynch acknowledged the only viable path for McGlinchey to stay in San Francisco would be his market underwhelming. That seems unlikely, so right tackle-seeking teams – and there are a handful – will jockey for the sixth-year veteran. McGlinchey turned 28 in January, making this his obvious window to cash in. He rated fifth in ESPN’s run block win rate stat last season, bouncing back from the quadriceps injury that ended his 2021 season.

There is no shortage of Kyle Shanahan– or Sean McVay-influenced schemes around the league. The Bears employ Luke Getsy as their play-caller; Getsy worked for Shanahan/McVay tree branch Matt LaFleur, and the Bears’ cap space dwarfs every other team’s. After fielding a shaky O-line (on a team full of substandard position groups), Chicago needs a better idea of Justin Fields’ trajectory. Outbidding the field for the top right tackle available is a good start. The Patriots want a right tackle – on a line without a big contract presently – and the Raiders might have a say here as well. In need at multiple O-line spots, Las Vegas will have cash as well if it passes on a big QB investment.

Best fits: Bears, Patriots, Raiders

3. Jawann Taylor, T. Age in Week 1: 26

As expected, the Jaguars took Evan Engram off the market via the franchise tag. The tight end tag being $7MM cheaper than the $18.2MM offensive lineman tag always pointed Taylor toward free agency, and after never missing a start in four Duval County seasons, Taylor will be tough for the Jags to retain. They already drafted Walker Little in the 2021 second round, and no team that is currently paying a left tackle top-10 money (Cam Robinson is seventh) has a top-10 right tackle contract on the books. Taylor is expected to land at least a top-10 right tackle deal, with a $17MM-AAV figure being floated. That would place the former Florida Gator in the top five at the position, depending on how McGlinchey fares next week.

Taylor resembles the genre of player that usually populates the top of a position’s free agency market: a dependable performer who checks in below the top tier at his job. Taylor enjoyed his strongest year in his platform campaign. The former second-round pick dropped his hold count from 11 in 2021 to two in 2022. While PFF charged Taylor with five sacks allowed, Football Outsiders measured his blown-block rate at a career-low 1.3%. Offering a disparate skillset compared to McGlinchey, Taylor has fared better as a pass protector than in the run game. PFF slotted him as a top-10 pass protector among right tackles but viewed him as a dismal run-blocker.

The Jags have presumably made Taylor an offer, but other teams will probably top it. The Dolphins gave Terron Armstead a five-year, $75MM deal in 2022 but have needed a right tackle ever since Ja’Wuan James’ 2019 exit. They were forced to start in-season pickup Brandon Shell for much of the year and have cleared more than $45MM in cap space over the past two days. The team just picked up Tua Tagovailoa‘s fifth-year option, and the league’s lone southpaw starting QB needs better blindside protection after a season in which he suffered at least two concussions. Overspending on O-linemen is not the Patriots’ M.O., but they have a need at right tackle and do not have big dollars devoted to quarterback or any position up front. New England is on the hunt for a right tackle upgrade, and the team’s 2021 free agency showed it would spend when it deemed expenditures necessary.

Best fits: Dolphins, Patriots, Jaguars

4. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB. Age in Week 1: 31

The quarterback market cleared up this week, seeing Geno Smith and Daniel Jones extended and Derek Carr’s lengthy street free agency stretch end with $70MM in practical guarantees. Garoppolo’s injury history will affect his value, but teams kind of make it a priority to staff this position. The former Super Bowl starter is in his prime and on the market for the first time. How high this market goes will depend on what the Raiders want and what Aaron Rodgers decides.

The 49ers’ 12-game win streak that included Brock Purdy’s stunning displays began with Garoppolo at the controls. Guiding San Francisco to four straight wins, Garoppolo was at or close to his best when he suffered a broken foot in Week 13. He sported a 7-0 TD-INT ratio during that win streak and closed the season 16th in QBR. He would have walked into a better market had the injury not occurred; the setback came after a string of health issues. He tore an ACL in 2018, missed 10 games in 2020 after an ankle sprain and was significantly limited by the end of the 2021 slate due to a three-injury season. Garoppolo’s March 2022 shoulder surgery hijacked his trade market.

Ideally for Garoppolo, Rodgers returns to Green Bay or retires. While that is looking unlikelier by the day, it would put the Jets in a desperate position following Carr’s decision. The Raiders represent the other wild card. Garoppolo would slide into Josh McDaniels’ system seamlessly, given the parties’ three-plus years together in New England. The Raiders have operated a bit more stealthily compared to the Jets; they have been connected to Rodgers, Garoppolo and rolling with a rookie. Plan C here would be a tough sell given the presences of 30-year-old skill-position players Davante Adams and Darren Waller, but Las Vegas’ plans cloud Garoppolo’s market. If the Raiders pass and Rodgers chooses the Jets, Garoppolo’s earning power could drop.

McDaniels not fancying a Garoppolo reunion opens the door for the Texans, who hired ex-49ers pass-game coordinator Bobby Slowik as OC, and others. Houston’s situation may not appeal to Garoppolo, but Slowik and Nick Caserio being in Houston make this connection too clear to ignore. The Buccaneers and Commanders are in win-now positions but are giving indications they do not want to spend much at QB. The Commanders were deep in talks for the then-49ers QB last year, however. Garoppolo will test those squads, along with the Falcons, who are entering Year 3 of the Terry FontenotArthur Smith regime. The Panthers’ acquisition of the No. 1 pick likely takes them out of the running, and Carolina not being in the mix could also affect how high the Garoppolo price goes.

Bottom line, there should be enough teams interested in staffing their 2023 QB1 spots that the best free agent option should do OK no matter what happens with Rodgers.

Best fits: Raiders, Texans, Commanders

5. Jamel Dean, CB. Age in Week 1: 26

The Buccaneers retained Carlton Davis last year, but their dire cap situation should force a Dean departure. Dean’s age/performance combination should make him this year’s top cornerback available. With corner a position of need for many teams, the former third-round pick stands to do very well. Dean has only been a full-time starter in one season, however, seeing his defensive snap share jump from 67% in 2021 to 90% last season.

Excelling in press coverage, Dean played a major role for the 2020 Super Bowl champion Bucs iteration and overtook fellow free agent Sean Murphy-Bunting last year. Dean did perform better in 2021 compared to 2022, allowing no touchdowns and limiting QBs to a collective 50.0 passer rating; those numbers shot up to four and 86.0 last season. Still, PFF rated Dean as last year’s 10th-best corner. J.C. Jackson did not break into the top five among corners upon hitting the market last year; Dean should not be expected to do so, either. But many teams will be interested.

The Patriots have paid up for a corner previously, in Stephon Gilmore (2017), but Jonathan Jones – forced to primarily play a boundary role in 2022 – wants to re-sign and will be far cheaper than Dean. The Falcons need help opposite AJ Terrell and trail only the Bears in cap space. Although a Terrell payment is coming, it can be tabled to 2024 due to the fifth-year option. The Dolphins are clearing cap space and now have a corner need, with Byron Jones no longer with the team after his missed season.

Best fits: Dolphins, Falcons, Patriots

6. Jessie Bates, S. Age in Week 1: 26

Bates stands to be one of this free agency crop’s safest bets, combining extensive experience – the final two years as a pillar for a championship threat – with a host of prime years remaining. Beginning his career at 21, the Wake Forest product has started 79 games and anchored the Bengals’ secondary for most of his tenure. The Bengals did not tag Bates for a second time, passing on a $15.5MM price. With the team planning to let Bates test the market, it looks like the sixth-year defender will leave Cincinnati.

The Bengals and Bates went through two offseasons of negotiations, ending in the 2022 tag. The Bengals have some big payments to make at higher-profile positions. Safety does not qualify as such, but Bates has been a cornerstone in Lou Anarumo’s defense and will be handsomely rewarded. Bates finished as Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 overall safety in 2020 and, after a shakier 2021 in which he admitted his contract situation affected his play, Bates came through with impact plays in the postseason. He graded as a top-25 safety, via PFF, in 2022.

Safety is one of this year’s deeper positions in free agency. Of the top 10 safety contracts, however, only one went to a free agent (Marcus Williams in 2022). Bates should be expected to join the Ravens defender, who signed for $14MM per year. It will be interesting if he can climb into the top five at the position; Justin Simmons’ $15.25MM-AAV accord sits fifth. Bates should be expected to approach or eclipse that, though moving to the Derwin JamesMinkah Fitzpatrick tier will be more difficult. Still, after the Bengals offered Bates less than $17MM guaranteed last summer, he should depart for more guaranteed money.

The Browns are interested in Bates, who will cost more than John Johnson cost Cleveland two years ago (three years, $33.75MM). Clear of the record-setting Matt Ryan dead-money hit, the Falcons have cash to spend and a Terry FontenotArthur Smith regime entering Year 3. The Falcons need to make progress, and they do not have much in the way of talent or costs at safety. The team has not featured much here since the Keanu NealRicardo Allen tandem splintered. Bates would be a way to remedy that.

Team fits: Falcons, Browns, Raiders

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Chiefs Aiming To Keep JuJu Smith-Schuster, Likely To Let Mecole Hardman Walk

This year’s franchise tag deadline passed without the Chiefs re-tagging Orlando Brown Jr. They will take their chances on the market, with the veteran left tackle seemingly unlikely to sign before seeing what else could be out there for him. The defending Super Bowl champions are, however, interested in retaining at least one of their notable free agents.

The plan remains for the Chiefs to re-sign JuJu Smith-Schuster. After making substantial changes to their receiving corps in 2022, the Chiefs want to keep Smith-Schuster in the fold, James Palmer of tweets. It will take a fairly significant raise to keep Smith-Schuster, though the allure of returning to Kansas City’s Andy Reid– and Patrick Mahomes-led offense will be a factor in the seventh-year receiver’s free agency. Smith-Schuster has said he wants to return to the Chiefs, but after playing on an incentive-laden deal, he will command a nice contract in what will be his third run at free agency.

Although the Chiefs carved out some cap space via the Frank Clark release, they remain a few million over the salary ceiling as of Tuesday afternoon. Teams have until 3pm CT March 15 to move under the 2023 cap. On that note, the Chiefs are viewing Mecole Hardman as a likely departure candidate. They are expecting Hardman’s market to be out of their price range, Jeremy Fowler of notes. Palmer doubles down on that, with the former second-round pick who missed Super Bowl LVII due to injury likely to leave Kansas City (Twitter link).

Hardman, 25 on Sunday, submitted an inconsistent four seasons with the Chiefs. The Pro Bowl return man did, however, eclipse 500 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons as a tertiary Mahomes target. He has totaled 18 touchdowns; three of those came in a Chiefs rout of the 49ers last season. A groin injury that required surgery shelved Hardman shortly after, and although he suited up for the AFC championship game, an aggravation led to a Super Bowl absence and a surgery.

Hardman, however, is not in danger of missing 2023 time, and Fowler adds some teams believe he will do well in free agency. This promises to be a thin market, headlined by the likes of Smith-Schuster, Jakobi Meyers and Odell Beckham Jr., the latter of whom having not played since Super Bowl LVI. The Panthers are believed to be one of the teams interested in Hardman, Joe Person of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Carolina traded the now-Chosen Anderson last season but still has D.J. Moore and Terrace Marshall under contract. Hardman would make for an intriguing complementary piece in Frank Reich‘s offense.

The Chiefs have big plans for their most recent receiver addition as well. They are viewing Kadarius Toney as a No. 1 wide receiver candidate, Palmer adds. Toney’s substantial injury history clouds that vision. Hence, the Smith-Schuster interest. Marquez Valdes-Scantling also remains under contract, and Skyy Moore should be expected to make bigger contributions in 2023. But Toney has a first-round pedigree and often flashes when he gets the ball. He set a Super Bowl punt-return yardage record and scored a walk-in touchdown in the narrow win. The high-variance speedster will also have a full offseason to acclimate in Reid’s offense, pointing his arrow up despite the injury troubles.

Kansas City may also lose safety Juan Thornhill in free agency, Fowler adds. The Chiefs drafted Thornhill in the 2019 second round as well. This is a fairly crowded safety market, but Thornhill has 52 career starts and made steady contributions for two Super Bowl-winning teams. Some teams view him as this class’ No. 2 safety, behind only Jessie Bates. That is high praise considering Jordan Poyer, Vonn Bell, Julian Love, John Johnson and Adrian Amos join Thornhill in free agency. Pro Football Focus rated Thornhill as a top-30 safety in each of the past two seasons.

Circling back to Brown, the Chiefs are taking the chance they will lose a central part of their O-line rebuild. The team brought in Brown, Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith in 2021, fortifying an O-line that had a brutal night in Super Bowl LV. Rather than another Brown tag, Albert Breer of notes the Chiefs want to solidify their long-term tackle spot this offseason (Twitter link). A Brown tag could have tabled matters to 2024 and created a Kirk Cousins-like situation, when a tag — at 144% of his 2023 salary — would have been untenable. Brown leaving this year, however, will make the Chiefs a candidate to draft a tackle or trade for one; this left tackle market is not particularly deep, Donovan Smith‘s Tuesday addition notwithstanding.

AFC West Notes: Waller, Chiefs, Broncos

Darren Waller came up in trade talks last year, generating Packers interest ahead of the deadline, and the veteran tight end missed a big chunk of the Raiders‘ season due to a nagging hamstring injury that may or may not have irked some with the team. This came after the Raiders reached a three-year, $51MM extension with the former Pro Bowler just before the season. Despite Waller’s disappointing slate and the team moving on from Derek Carr, Jeff Howe of The Athletic notes the Silver and Black are not looking to move on from the talented tight end (subscription required).

Waller’s $12MM cap number checks in considerably lower than Chandler Jones‘ ($19.3MM), but Howe adds the latter is also unlikely to be moved. The Raiders did not receive what they had hoped from Jones, who totaled just 4.5 sacks and seven QB hits in his Las Vegas debut. The Raiders would save $9MM-plus by trading Jones, 33, but the ex-Cardinals All-Pro’s trade value may not be especially high right now. Jones still has $16MM in guarantees remaining on his three-year, $51MM deal.

Here is the latest from the AFC West:

  • The Chiefs had once eyed Mike Kafka to succeed Eric Bieniemy as OC, per’s Albert Breer, but they had envisioned the latter landing a head coaching job. Bieniemy famously failed to do so and ended up leaving for a play-calling role in Washington after five years. This proved too long for Kafka to wait; he is now the Giants’ play-caller and joined this year’s HC carousel. Benefiting from the past two offseasons’ events, Matt Nagy replaced Kafka as QBs coach and has since replaced Bieniemy. Nagy’s Bears HC shortcomings notwithstanding, Breer adds he is seen as a possible Andy Reid heir apparent in Kansas City. Reid shot down retirement rumors after Super Bowl LVII, but the future Hall of Famer will turn 65 this month and is going into his 25th season as a head coach.
  • Graham Glasgow, Ronald Darby and Chase Edmonds loom as cut candidates for the Broncos, who have some needs to fill in free agency. It is possible the Broncos release all three, Troy Renck of Denver7 tweets. Denver restructured Glasgow’s contract in 2022 and saw him become needed after injuries to guard Quinn Meinerz and center Lloyd Cushenberry. But the team can save $11MM by releasing Glasgow. The team can add $9.6MM by cutting Darby, who suffered a torn ACL in October. Rookie Damarri Mathis fared decently replacing the veteran opposite Patrick Surtain II. The Broncos picked up Edmonds at the deadline from the Dolphins; they can save $5.9MM by releasing the ex-Cardinals starter. Denver should be able to add a veteran for cheaper, given this year’s crowded running back market, and Sean Payton favorite Latavius Murray is likely a candidate to be re-signed.
  • For what it’s worth, Russell Wilson‘s office is no longer in use. The space that drew considerable attention as the former Seahawks star struggled in Denver has been cleaned out, Mike Klis of 9News notes. While Broncos players did not necessarily voice issues about Wilson’s office, it attracted scrutiny during a 5-12 season. Wilson previously agreed to stop using it during the season’s final two weeks.
  • Kyle Van Noy wants to stay with the Chargers, per The Athletic’s Daniel Popper, who notes the versatile linebacker should have a chance to return. The Bolts signed Van Noy to a low-cost deal late in the 2022 offseason. His role expanded after Joey Bosa‘s groin injury, and the 13-game starter hit the five-sack mark for the fifth time in the past six seasons. Conversely, Morgan Fox will probably depart in free agency, Popper adds. Fox registered 6.5 sacks and likely will price himself out of Los Angeles, as the Bolts want to re-sign right tackle Trey Pipkins and linebacker Drue Tranquill.
  • Mecole Hardman recently underwent groin surgery, Tom Pelissero of tweets. The November injury kept the contract-year wide receiver out of Super Bowl LVII. Hardman will attempt to get healthy ahead of a free agency bid, with Howe adding he will need around two months to recover (Twitter link). The Chiefs have Hardman and JuJu Smith-Schuster set to hit the market. Mutual interest exists between the Chiefs and Smith-Schuster.

Chiefs Activate RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Place WR Mecole Hardman On IR

FEBRUARY 12: Even though Edwards-Helaire is healthy enough to play, he is among the team’s inactives for tonight’s championship game. That news comes as little surprise given the time he has missed, and confirms that Pacheco and McKinnon will handle the load in the backfield for Kansas City.

FEBRUARY 6: As the countdown to Super Bowl LVII continues, the Chiefs have made a pair of injury-related moves. The team announced on Monday that running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire had been activated from injured reserve, while wideout Mecole Hardman has been placed on IR.

[Poll: Who Will Win Super Bowl LVII?]

The former’s three-week activation window had nearly expired, as he had been designated for return on January 17. The news will be a welcomed sight for Kansas City in terms of being closer to full health on offense, though the former first-rounder may not be in line for a particularly large role in the championship game.

Edwards-Helaire has not played since Week 11 due to a high ankle sprain. In his absence, the Chiefs have increasingly turned the reins over to seventh-round rookie Isiah Pacheco as their early-down back. Jerick McKinnon, meanwhile, has excelled in a pass-catching role, scoring at least one touchdown in six straight games to close out the regular season. It will be interesting to see how much of a workload Edwards-Helaire takes on within the team’s backfield after missing extended time and with the other two backs enjoying success in his absence.

The other move is likewise not surprising. Hardman being placed on IR guarantees that he will not play in the Super Bowl, something which head coach Andy Reid recently indicated was the likely outcome in his situation. Kansas City suffered a slew of injuries at the receiver position in their AFC title game win over the Bengals, with Hardman reaggravating his pelvis injury suffered earlier in the year.

Fellow pass-catchers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kadarius Toney are in better shape as it relates to their potential availability for next week’s big game. The Chiefs are always in position to be dangerous through the air with quarterback Patrick Mahomes (who is, of course, nursing an ankle sprain of his own) and tight end Travis Kelce available. Still, the uncertainty they face at the WR position could be a key talking point over the course of the next few days.

Mecole Hardman Unlikely For Super Bowl LVII; Chiefs Optimistic On JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kadarius Toney

Both the Bengals and Chiefs lost wide receivers during the AFC championship game, but the eventual conference champions dealt with more pass-catcher unavailability. The Chiefs finished the game without three of their top four wideouts, with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman and Kadarius Toney sidelined by game’s end.

The Chiefs are unlikely to have their top four each in uniform, but Andy Reid is optimistic Smith-Schuster and Toney will play against the Eagles. However, the 10th-year Chiefs HC added Hardman is unlikely to go (Twitter links via ESPN’s Adam Teicher).

Hardman aggravated his pelvis injury during Kansas City’s 23-20 win. The speedster’s return for the AFC decider marked his first action since Week 9. The Chiefs had placed the contract-year wideout on IR but activated him ahead of Week 18. Hardman still was not ready to go after the team’s bye week, and he played 15 offensive snaps against the Bengals.

Neither Smith-Schuster nor Toney practiced Thursday, though Toney was present for the team’s morning walkthrough. Smith-Schuster is battling a knee injury, while Toney’s latest ailment is an ankle issue. Smith-Schuster, who joins Hardman as a contract-year player, only missed one game this season. He led Chiefs wideouts — by a wide margin — with 78 catches for 933 yards. The ex-Steelers staple will command a deal north of the one-year, $3.76MM pact he signed this year. Though, Smith-Schuster boosted his earnings by hitting incentive standards this season.

Toney has been unable to shake the injury issues that contributed to his New York exit. After battling separate hamstring injuries during his final weeks with the Giants, the former first-round pick suffered another hamstring issue during his initial weeks with the Chiefs. Toney, who has missed 16 games during his two-season career, went down after making a first-half cut against Cincinnati. The new Chiefs gadget player logged just four offensive snaps.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling ended the game as the last man standing, and the ex-Packer delivered his best outing as a Chief. Valdes-Scantling totaled a season-high 116 yards against the Bengals, scoring a touchdown for the second straight week. Given Hardman’s likely absence and Toney’s unreliability, the Chiefs will likely need a similar effort from MVS against the Eagles. Valdes-Scantling signed a three-year, $30MM deal with the Chiefs, doing so shortly after the team traded Tyreek Hill (who added a third All-Pro receiving season to his resume this season). Although barely $8MM of that pact was guaranteed, Valdes-Scantling has a good chance of sticking around in Missouri next season.

Regarding the Chiefs’ other injuries, Patrick Mahomes said he did not aggravate his high ankle sprain in the AFC title game. L’Jarius Sneed remains in concussion protocol, but with the bye week, the third-year cornerback has a better shot of being cleared in time for the Super Bowl. Willie Gay‘s early shoulder tests were encouraging, per Jeremy Fowler of (on Twitter).

Chiefs Activate WR Mecole Hardman

The Chiefs will be getting some offensive reinforcement just in time for the postseason. The team announced that they’ve activated wideout Mecole Hardman from injured reserve. To make room on the roster, the team waived offensive tackle Geron Christian.

Hardman last saw the field during Kansas City’s win over the Titans in early November. He was listed on subsequent injury reports with an abdominal injury before ultimately landing on IR. He returned to practice back in December and his three-week activation window was set to expire this week. Hardman was a limited participant at practice today with a pelvis injury, per ESPN’s Adam Teicher.

The former second-round pick had more than 500 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons in the NFL, including a 2021 campaign where he had a career-high 739 yards from scrimmage. Hardman has also served as the team’s primary punt returner, and he earned a Pro Bowl nod for his punt/kick returning during his rookie campaign.

In eight games (five starts) this season, Hardman already hauled in a career-high six touchdowns to go along with 328 yards from scrimmage.

Christian got into 10 games for the Chiefs this season, with the majority of his snaps coming on special teams. He started 16 games for Washington and Houston between 2019 and 2021.

Chiefs Designate WR Mecole Hardman For Return

DECEMBER 18: Toney will suit up for Kansas City’s Week 15 contest against the Texans, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweets. The team expects to have Hardman back for its Week 16 tilt with the Seahawks.

DECEMBER 14: The Chiefs have been shorthanded at the receiver position lately, but that could change soon. Mecole Hardman is returning to practice today, as noted (on Twitter) by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

This opens Hardman’s 21-day window to be activated from IR. A return at some point in the near future would be expected, given the team’s previously stated hope that his time on the sidelines would not extend through the remainder of the regular season. Hardman has been out since Week 9 with an abdominal injury.

The former second-rounder has seen a career-high 53% snap share on offense this season, his fourth with the team. He has once again served as a complimentary pass-catcher within the Chiefs’ league-leading aerial attack, albeit one whose target totals had increased with each passing season. That trend will stop in 2022 due to his missed time, but with four touchdowns, the Georgia alum could have a chance at setting a new watermark from the six he scored as a rookie.

Any further production on offense this season – or, if called upon, on special teams where he first established himself early in his tenure – will of course be noteworthy as Hardman is a pending free agent. His career over the course of his rookie contract has been marked by a lack of a dominant, breakout campaign, but also an ability as a return man and vertical threat.

Hardman should once again step into a rotational role behind free agent signings JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who have each enjoyed productive seasons in 2022. With trade acquisition Kadarius Toney dealing with a lingering hamstring issue, his availability could remain a question mark down the stretch. Hardman will be a welcomed sight as Kansas City looks to earn the top seed in the AFC while getting healthy on offense.

Chiefs Place WR Mecole Hardman On IR

NOVEMBER 18: Head coach Andy Reid said Hardman’s IR stint is viewed as “short-term,” as opposed to season-ending (Twitter link via Herbie Teope of the Kansas City Star). That will be welcomed news for the Chiefs when they look to get healthy at the skill positions towards the end of the regular season.

NOVEMBER 17: Mecole Hardman‘s absence will extend to at least five games. After missing the Chiefs’ Week 10 matchup against the Jaguars, the fourth-year wide receiver is now on IR.

An abdominal injury will sideline Hardman, who has delivered some key contributions for the perennial AFC West kingpins this season. He will be eligible to return in Week 15.

The Chiefs have made numerous changes at receiver this year; Hardman resided as the only constant. Kansas City traded Tyreek Hill and let Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle walk in free agency. The team signed JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling and drafted Skyy Moore in Round 2. Former Giants first-round pick Kadarius Toney is now on the team, with the Chiefs having traded third- and sixth-round picks to land the mercurial speedster.

Hardman, 24, arrived as a second-round pick during a window in which it was far from certain if Hill would play for the Chiefs again. Hill did, in fact, return from his second major scandal. With the world-class speed merchant in the fold, Hardman delivered an inconsistent first three seasons. This year, however, the auxiliary playmaker has six touchdowns in eight games; he scored three against the 49ers in Week 7. Hardman has totaled 328 scrimmage yards in his contract year.

This injury blunts Hardman’s momentum; his return late this season stands to be important for his long-term prospects. As this year’s bevy of receiver trades helped show, next year’s free agent market is not exactly teeming with prime talent. Smith-Schuster, Allen Lazard, Jakobi Meyers and Parris Campbell are on track to be the top names available. A lighter market would give Hardman, who has a returner Pro Bowl nod on his resume, a chance to score a nice payday. How the Georgia alum finishes his contract year will help cement his value.

The Chiefs are also uncertain to have Smith-Schuster in Week 11. Their leading wide receiver suffered a concussion after an over-the-middle collision against Jacksonville. Kansas City being without Hardman and Smith-Schuster would stand to give Toney, who has dealt with numerous injuries in his short pro career, a bigger role in his third game as a Chief. Toney totaled 90 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in Week 10.

Chiefs WR Mecole Hardman Eyeing Breakout Season

Mecole Hardman has been apart of some high-flying offenses, but the 2019 second-round pick still hasn’t cracked 600 receiving yards in a season. With Sammy Watkins now out of the picture, Hardman should be in line for a larger role in 2021, and Nate Taylor of The Athletic opines that the 23-year-old has an opportunity to be the offense’s “breakout player this season.”

Taylor notes that Hardman has already shown a handful of noticeable improvements, including pass-catching consistency and route running. The writer cites a specific play from minicamp where the receiver overcame some excellent defense from cornerback Mike Hughes and corralled a tipped pass for a reception. Hardman’s performance has also led to some praise from his teammates.

“I think he’s hungrier than he’s ever been,” said safety Tyrann Mathieu. “Each and every practice, he’s trying to find me. I know iron sharpens iron, but it seems like every day he wants to see me. I’m grateful that I can get him better. It’s been a pleasure to see him come to work.

“Even when he makes a mistake, he’s not hanging his head. He’s running back to the huddle. You can see it in his eyes that he’s ready to go. A big part of that is him understanding that we’re going to need him. We need him to play big and we expect him to do that.”

Hardman earned a Pro Bowl nod as a rookie thanks to his return numbers, and he saw a bit of a larger offensive role as a sophomore in 2020. The wideout finished this past season with 41 receptions for 560 yards and four scores, but he saw a reduced role in the postseason, hauling in only eight catches for 66 yards in three games.

With Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce still entrenched as Patrick Mahomes‘ top targets, Hardman has an opportunity to slide in at third in the pecking order. The wideout will compete with the likes of Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, and fifth-round rookie Cornell Powell for targets.

Chiefs Place Mitchell Schwartz On IR

Mitchell Schwartz has seen his iron-man run stop this season, having missed time due to injury. The Chiefs will now be without their ace right tackle for a while.

Kansas City placed Schwartz on IR Saturday. This move will sideline the All-Pro blocker for at least three more games. Schwartz is dealing with a back injury — one that has shelved him since Week 6.

Prior to the October injury, Schwartz had not missed a game in eight seasons. He had started four years with the Browns and another four with the Chiefs. Kansas City gave Schwartz an extension in the process, relying on his stability as Eric Fisher underwent surgery last season. Both Fisher and Schwartz landed on Kansas City’s reserve/COVID-19 list recently, but Fisher will be back in action against Las Vegas. Schwartz will not.

The Chiefs also removed Mecole Hardman from their reserve/COVID list. They had placed the second-year wideout on the virus list last week. Hardman should play a key role against the Raiders, with Sammy Watkins set to miss the AFC West rivals’ Week 11 rematch.

Kansas City is also activating Alex Okafor and defensive back L’Jarius Sneed from IR. Okafor worked as a starter last season, but a midseason injury knocked him out for the team’s Super Bowl push. A hamstring injury sidelined Okafor this season. A fourth-round rookie, Sneed played well early this year but suffered a broken collarbone in September. Okafor will help out a Chiefs pass rush that will be without Taco Charlton for a while. The Chiefs placed the offseason acquisition on IR Saturday.