Jets trade Elijah Moore to Browns, sign Mecole Hardman in flurry of moves
Moore finally gets wish to leave Jets
Five months after Elijah Moore blew up on a Jets coach, was sent home and requested a trade — all during a three-game winning streak — he finally got his wish.
Jets trade Moore to Browns for second-round pick
Wednesday, the Jets traded Moore to the Browns along with a third-round pick for Cleveland’s second-round pick (42nd overall) in the 2023 NFL Draft, multiple team and league sources confirmed to The Athletic. The trade comes on the heels of the Jets also agreeing to a one-year contract with speedy free-agent Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman on Wednesday.
Moore’s tenure with Jets marked by disappointment
Moore eventually returned to the Jets following his blowup, which was directed at offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur after his frustration with quarterback Zach Wilson boiled over. LaFleur has since left and been replaced by Nathaniel Hackett, while Wilson will soon be relegated to backup duty by the expected arrival of Aaron Rodgers from the Packers.
The Jets had insisted, even after Moore’s trade request, that he was an important part of their future. Coach Robert Saleh had mentioned Moore multiple times since the end of the season as part of the core of the Jets’ offense.
But as the offseason progressed, it became less and less clear how he fit in, especially after general manager Joe Douglas signed Hardman and Packers wideout Allen Lazard. The Jets have also been tied to other receivers (Randall Cobb, Odell Beckham Jr.), so it felt as though the writing was on the wall.
It would be difficult to call Moore’s tenure with the Jets as anything but a disappointment, especially after he had such a promising start. A second-round pick (34th overall) by the Jets in 2021, Moore had a remarkable six-game stretch in the middle of his rookie season: 34 catches for 459 yards and five touchdowns from Weeks 8-13 before a quad injury ended his year.
Then, the Jets drafted Garrett Wilson in the first round last April, and Wilson started taking most of the targets — and snaps — that had gone to Moore in 2021. Moore’s frustration reached a boiling point after a game against the Packers in Week 6, when Moore wasn’t targeted at all despite playing 32 offensive snaps. After his blowup a few days later in practice, the Jets told him to stay in New Jersey for the Week 7 game at Denver. He rejoined the team the following week.
His role never really increased all that much aside from a Week 14 loss to the Bills, when he was targeted 10 times.
Jets add speedy Hardman
The trade became more of a consideration this offseason, as the Jets gear up to make a legitimate run at the playoffs, and more, with Rodgers at quarterback. And Moore is off to the Browns, whom the Jets will face in Cleveland this season. The Browns have Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones as starters on the outside, and Moore should fit right in as Cleveland’s primary slot receiver.
It already felt like Moore was on the way out once the Jets agreed to sign Hardman to a one-year deal worth up to $6.5 million. The resolution came shortly thereafter.
Hardman was attractive to the Jets mostly because of his speed — he ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash coming out of Georgia in 2019. Throughout his career, Hardman has lined up in the slot and outside in a pretty even split, and that versatility clearly appeals to the Jets. Wilson and Lazard have proven capable of excelling in the slot and outside, too. Hardman has 16 receiving touchdowns in his career, and 10 came when he was lined up in the slot.
The Jets weren’t much of a deep threat as a passing offense last season, though the struggles from their quarterbacks — especially Zach Wilson — likely contributed to that. Even if Hardman wasn’t as much of a deep threat as you’d think in Kansas City, his speed should help open up the offense to more explosive plays.
He’s useful on end-arounds, too, scoring two rushing touchdowns last year. He’s second among all wide receivers since 2019 in average yards after the catch (8.21), behind only 49ers star Deebo Samuel.
Hardman’s talent has never been in question, though he never quite broke out like the Chiefs hoped after they drafted him in the second round (56th overall). Hardman missed the Chiefs’ final nine games last season, plus their divisional-round playoff game and the Super Bowl, because of a core muscle issue that required surgery in February. He accounted for 25 catches, 297 yards and four touchdowns in eight games, a solid pace if he’d remained healthy. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had a 142.3 passer rating when targeting Hardman in 2022, per Pro Football Focus.
Hardman’s best season was in 2021, when he had 59 catches for 693 yards and two touchdowns. Despite his elite-level speed, Hardman hasn’t been as much of a deep threat in recent years. As a rookie in 2019, he scored three touchdowns on passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield in 16 games. He has one touchdown and 10 catches overall on such passes since then in 41 games. He made the Pro Bowl as a returner as a rookie, when he averaged 26.1 kick return yards and scored a 104-yard touchdown. He also scored a punt return touchdown in 2020.
More moves expected for Jets
After adding Hardman and Lazard, the Jets likely aren’t done clearing out wide receivers. At some point, the Jets are expected to cut or trade Corey Davis for cap savings, and it’s also unclear where 2020 second-round pick Denzel Mims fits.
Until the Jets and Packers actually (finally) come to an agreement on a trade for Rodgers, every move the Jets make will feel tied to those negotiations. And it’s hard not to think that was a consideration with this deal.
The Jets and Packers are at a stalemate, with Green Bay wanting New York’s first-round pick (13th overall) and the Jets not willing to give it up. Perhaps this move will change the thought process for both teams.
All of a sudden, the Jets have their first-round pick and two second-round picks (No. 42 and No. 43). Maybe that will make them more willing to give up their No. 13 pick, since it now wouldn’t be difficult to trade back into the first round. Or perhaps the Packers might be more pliable if the deal for Rodgers involved multiple second-round picks.
Maybe this trade