Mecole Hardman is still without a team, as we are midway through the first week of open free agency. He is on PFN’s Top 100 Free Agents list and would help several teams in the league. The former Kansas City Chief has a unique skill set at the wide receiver position that could upgrade a number of NFL offenses. Hardman isn’t a contested-catch guy or a WR you routinely send over the middle to secure a tough third-and-long reception.
However, getting him into space as a chess piece and returner should be the focus for any team looking to add him to their depth chart. Several teams could use this type of upgrade to their receiver corps. Below is a list of Hardman’s best fits as it stands right now.
Mecole Hardman Free Agency Best Fits
A reminder as we venture through Hardman’s free agency process — the teams listed below are the best fits for his skill set, in my opinion. This is not necessarily who I believe will end up signing him. Many factors come into how a player ultimately gets signed. Salary cap, cash flow, team needs, and, yes, the actual market, will all factor in what team actually pulls the trigger.
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Every year we see a free agency signing and go, “why would they do that?” The goal with this list is to go through the teams who, if they did sign him, we could avoid doing that. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the Chiefs are “bracing to lose” Hardman this offseason, having already lost JuJu Smith-Schuster to the Patriots. Here is my “Mecole Hardman Best Fits” list.
New York Giants Need Space Eaters
The Giants are first on the list. Coming off a playoff run, they just committed to quarterback Daniel Jones, both in years and money. He helped lead them to the postseason despite a wide receiver corps we’ve all already forgotten about.
Head coach Brian Daboll understands the value of surrounding your up-and-coming quarterback with talent. We all talk about the help Stefon Diggs provided Josh Allen and how it accelerated his growth.
Yet, it was also in large part due to slot receiver Cole Beasley. Allen has always struggled with consistent accuracy, and having Stefon Diggs commanding attention allowed Beasley, as one of the best space eaters in the league, to provide a reliable target in crunch time for Allen to get the ball into a big window. When Beasley retired, Allen’s accuracy numbers regressed, despite the continued presence of Diggs.
There is not a Stefon Diggs on the free agent market. But there is a Cole Beasley — just more athletic and younger. Daboll knows he’ll need both around Jones at some point and can get Hardman for cheap and lock the piece down.
Hardman will bring to the Giants a weapon they did not have at all last year. He can take pressure off of Jones and Saquon Barkley as a short-yardage/YAC weapon who can keep a defense on its toes.
Carolina Panthers Need, Well, Everything
After trading star receiver DJ Moore in the move to secure the No. 1 overall pick from the Chicago Bears, an already depleted talent pool in Carolina took a major hit. This puts them squarely on my “Mecole Hardman Best Fits” list. There is no question they are in rebuild mode on offense. The move to No. 1 overall was undoubtedly to secure a rookie quarterback — most likely C.J. Stroud, in my opinion.
Signing Hardman in free agency gives them young, athletic talent who can serve as a safety blanket for a rookie QB getting his bearings in the league. Having a player like Hardman, who can line up in multiple spots, allows for the type of creativity on offense that can prevent a defense from teeing off on a new signal-caller.
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The Panthers will need a lot more than just Hardman to be a competent offense in 2023, and head coach Frank Reich struggled to develop wide receivers when he was the head coach in Indianapolis. But having Hardman will give him a ready-made weapon to keep defenses honest. More team building will be required to truly see that approach pay off, but Hardman can be a step in the right direction.
The other benefit to a young quarterback? Field position. The Panthers’ leading kick returner in 2022 ranked 17th in return yards. Hardman is an All-Pro returner. Yet, curiously, the Chiefs limited his opportunities there soon ater, as he got more involved as a receiver. His new team should continue that as a major part of his game, and a team like Carolina would reap the benefits.
Indianapolis Colts Need Inside Help
The Colts are another team that best fits Hardman’s skill sets because of what they already have rather than what they don’t. They have two really solid wide receivers. Both are over 6’3″ and weigh over 200 pounds. Both can get down the sideline and make the tough contested catches.
Michael Pittman Jr. has shown big-play ability in his first two years, and that’s with one of the worst quarterback situations in the league. Alec Pierce has shown deep-catch and clutch-play ability and looks very promising.
Under Frank Reich, the Colts could never figure out was the inside help. Enter Hardman under new head coach Shane Steichen.
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Steichen has shown an ability to be creative with unique skill sets while in Philadelphia, and Hardman certainly fits the bill. He would fill an immediate hole in their offense and provide creativity on the inside and underneath routes to take pressure off of the outside.
Additionally, the Colts ranked 25th in punt return yards and 19th in yards per punt return. Their kick return gwase is one of the best in 2022. If they can add punt return prowess, they would be very strong in that element of the game. As we mentioned for Carolina, Hardman would provide an established skill set in this area that is plug-and-play on Day 1.
Colts fans may be wary of adding another speedy WR with an injury history like Parris Campbell, but as Hardman said on Twitter, “Bro stop saying I’m injury prone .. this the first time I been hurt in my career I played every game for 3 straight years.”