Would Mecole Hardman be back with the Chiefs without that Super Bowl catch?

For the second time in two years the Kansas City Chiefs brought back a familiar face in Mecole Hardman, a solid and speedy receiver who knows Andy Reid's playbook, but does he get the phone call if he didn't make the game-winning catch this past February?
Mecole looked to the sidelines after securing the catch to bring the third Super Bowl trophy to Kansas City during his tenure as a Chief.
Mecole looked to the sidelines after securing the catch to bring the third Super Bowl trophy to Kansas City during his tenure as a Chief. / Perry Knotts/GettyImages

When the Kansas City Chiefs were driving down the field at the end of regulation and overtime in Super Bowl LVIII, few people would have pegged Mecole Hardman as the likely savior of the game. That's not to say he didn't play a vital role in the victory (obviously) but up until overtime, it was not Hardman who was being targeted as the guy.

But, because of his game-winning catch and the iconic celebration that happened afterward, Hardman's name will forever live in infamy across Chiefs Kingdom. Hardman will never have to pay for a drink in Kansas City for the rest of his life, and he will forever have (at least) three more Super Bowl rings than me, you, and most other NFL players.

After the Chiefs signed Hardman to a one-year deal (again) this past Wednesday, I couldn't help but wonder, "What if Hardman wasn't the one who made the catch?" Would he still be signed back to the squad this year? Could he have turned that catch into more money from another team?

"Jackpot! Kansas City!" Winner, Mecole Hardman...

Before the catch that brought a fourth Lombardi trophy to Arrowhead, Hardman was an afterthought across Kansas City and the entire NFL league. He was signed to a one-year deal elsewhere prior to last season, rocking green-and-white New York Jets colors, with the intention of helping out Aaron Rodgers in his new home.

That plan did not work out for either side, yielding just one catch for Hardman in six games for a measly six yards in New York. To be fair, the expectations were never high for Hardman in the big city, especially after he only brandished 345 total yards the previous season (playoffs included).

When the Chiefs ultimately traded a 2025 sixth-round pick for Hardman (and a 2025 seventh-round pick) midway through the season, the narrative around him was quiet throughout Chiefs Kingdom. If anything, the conversations about him revolved around his abdominal issues that had plagued him the year before and not his play or ability on the field.

Fast forward to the end of the season and Hardman produced just 118 receiving yards wearing his new #12 jersey before the playoffs began. But all that mattered was that final catch, sealing his third Super Bowl victory and securing stardom for the near future for the former Georgia Bulldog.

Hardman was invited onto talk shows, he was a member of the NBA's celebrity basketball game at the All-Star break, he was an answer on the popular game show Jeopardy! and was a key face from the Super Bowl LVIII victory.

Now he has used that catch, as well as his vast knowledge of Andy Reid's offense and Patrick Mahomes' skill set, to secure yet another one-year deal. But do the Chiefs really need him?

Big Red's loyalty

If there's one thing that Coach Reid is known for it's never giving up on a player, no matter how old, injured, or possibly useless they may be. He showed that by re-signing wide receiver Demarcus Robinson twice on back-to-back one-year deals despite his continued effort to run backwards instead of forwards when he got the ball.

Reid also showed his loyalty when he brought in an aging and injury-prone LeSean "Shady" McCoy whom he drafted 10 years earlier in Philadelphia. McCoy did manage to put up 646 total yards during the Chiefs' first Super Bowl run under Reid, but the decision was still panned due to his age, the way he ran one-handed with the ball, and the deep running back room that Kansas City already had acquired.

Throughout Reid's history as a head coach, he's proven stubborn at times when keeping players when keeping players around a bit too long (or signing them) due to some sense of loyalty. With this most recent signing of Hardman, it would appear that Reid is just doing what Reid does best: staying comfortable. Hardman knows the system, has a history with Mahomes, and coaches know what to expect from him.

If Hardman makes the roster, does he deserve it over other players who could have more talent, a higher ceiling, or even just a younger and less battle-hardened body?

Expectations: high or low?

Believe it or not, I am a huge fan of Hardman. I have two jerseys—Nos. 17 and 12—and I vouched for him during a Super Bowl pregame show on a local radio show. I wish nothing but success for Hardman, especially if it means the Chiefs succeed. That said, there are too many "what ifs?" when it comes to signing him for another year instead of moving on and trusting a new corps of receivers.

Here lies the problem with the most recent one-year deal for Hardman: what should the expectations be?

For starters, he was originally brought back in 2019 as a possible replacement for Tyreek Hill during that tumultuous offseason when everybody believed Hill could be suspended indefinitely. But, thanks to a full voice recording and restored faith in the speedy receiver, Hardman became a secondary weapon that Mahomes and Reid used to their advantage. Since then he has dropped in the depth chart and, outside of a near-700-yard outlier season in 2021, his value has depreciated.

Hardman went from a solid number two behind Hill to a gadget player used almost entirely on jet sweeps and screen plays. The problem is that the Chiefs already have two players that fit that mold in Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore—and to some extent the new rookie from Texas Xavier Worthy—so where would he fit?

Now comes the 2024-25 season, where he could potentially be the fourth or fifth receiver on the depth chart behind the likes of Rashee Rice, Hollywood Brown, Xavier Worthy, and possibly even Kadarius Toney who had a severe case of the drops last year.

Outside of the big play possibility, which Hardman showed he could still bring to the table when he caught a 52-yard bomb to start the Super Bowl (see below), there isn't much of an upside to putting him on the field over some of the other talents in the Chiefs WR room.

Overall, the signing was one of good faith for a receiver who has been somewhat reliable in tough spots when healthy. He will fight hard for his spot somewhere on the depth chart, and he will occasionally show why Reid brought him back when he strikes deep or runs his routes better than some of the younger blood on the team.

But, if it weren't for the catch that sealed the deal in Super Bowl LVIII, Hardman might be sporting another jersey this coming year.