FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — 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 contract with his replacement, former Kansas City Chiefs wideout 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 attempts to acquire Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers.
One week ago, Rodgers expressed his intention to play for the Jets in 2023, but the two teams haven’t been able to agree on compensation.
Hardman agreed to a one-year contract, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. It can 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 priority this offseason offensively. The Browns had interest 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 blew up at then-offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur before a midweek practice and was sent home to cool off, sources said. A few hours later, his trade request became public. At the time, the Jets said they wouldn’t honor his request and they benched him that week against the Denver Broncos.
Moore’s production improved over the second half of the season, but his overall numbers were disappointing — 37 catches, 446 yards and one touchdown. At midseason, he went through a four-game stretch when he had only 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 evolved in recent weeks as they changed offensive coordinators and decided to shake up the receiving corps. They replaced LaFleur with Nathaniel Hackett and made a splash last week by signing Allen Lazard, formerly of the Green Bay Packers.
Lazard and Hardman join Garrett Wilson, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, 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. Moving on from Davis would create $10.5 million in cap room, which could be needed to complete a trade for Rodgers.
Moore was the Jets’ primary slot receiver, a position at which Hardman excelled for the Chiefs. In fact, 10 of Hardman’s 16 receiving touchdowns came 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 precludes 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 regular-season games and the Chiefs’ divisional round playoff game with what the team called a pelvic injury. He returned to catch two passes for 10 yards in the AFC Championship Game but sat out Super Bowl LVII.
Hardman underwent surgery Feb. 21 to repair an injury to his groin/pelvic area, meaning he likely will miss the Jets’ offseason program.
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 a 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 wide 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.