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Shuffling wideouts, Jets sign Mecole Hardman and trade Elijah Moore

Over four seasons with the Chiefs, Mecole Hardman scored 18 receiving and rushing touchdowns, plus three more in the playoffs and two on special teams. (David Eulitt/Getty Images)
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The New York Jets signed Mecole Hardman and then traded fellow wide receiver Elijah Moore to the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday in a quick one-two of roster moves that prompted speculation about what they could mean for a possible Aaron Rodgers trade.

The Jets packaged Moore with their third-round pick this year, No. 74 overall, for the Browns’ second-round pick, No. 42 overall. Per the long-standing draft slot trade-value chart attributed to Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson, the difference between the traded picks is worth the No. 66 overall selection.

Hardman, who is reportedly coming to New York on a one-year deal, was drafted 56th overall in 2019 by the Kansas City Chiefs. While he never fully broke out in the Chiefs’ high-powered attack, Hardman often showed the speed and shiftiness that made him an attractive draft prospect. He was limited to eight games last season by a pelvic injury that eventually required surgery in February, after it forced him to sit out Kansas City’s Super Bowl win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Moore, a second-round pick in 2021, reportedly asked for a trade midway through last season. With wide receiver Garrett Wilson, a 2022 first-round pick, quickly becoming the focus of New York’s passing attack and amid quarterbacking woes primarily attributable to Zach Wilson’s struggles, Moore posted worse numbers than during his promising rookie season.

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The Jets appear set to hold on to Zach Wilson, the No. 2 pick in 2021, but Coach Robert Saleh revealed in January the team was “committed to finding a veteran [quarterback].” After numerous reports linked New York to Rodgers, a four-time MVP with the Green Bay Packers, he confirmed earlier this month that he wanted to leave his team of 18 years and join the Jets. Rodgers said a trade had not been agreed upon because the Packers were “kind of digging their heels in” regarding compensation.

The trade of Moore could give the Jets another asset to dangle in Rodgers-related trade talks. New York now has the 13th, 42nd and 43rd picks in this year’s draft, as well as selections in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds.

In the context of an expected Rodgers trade, the Jets’ recent signing of longtime Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard did not seem coincidental. With Hardman joining Lazard and Garrett Wilson on a depth chart that also includes veterans Corey Davis and Denzel Mims, Moore was expendable.

The Jets might not be done making moves at wide receiver. The team has been linked (via SNY) to free agent Odell Beckham Jr., who was praised by Rodgers as an attractive potential addition this month. Davis and Mims, each heading into the last year of his Jets contract, could also be traded or released; doing so with Davis would save New York $10.5 million against the salary cap.

The Moore trade gives the Browns a wide receiver who brings speed, can play in the slot and still has two affordable years left on his rookie contract. Hardman figures to play out of the slot for New York, and his abilities on gadget plays and as a kick returner fill needs created last week when the Jets released wide receiver Braxton Berrios, who joined the Miami Dolphins.

In response Wednesday to an ESPN tweet that suggested the Jets had added a player able to “run jet sweeps, and more,” Hardman replied, “Way ‘MORE’ than jet sweeps!”