Before off-field issues put the career of Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill in limbo, talks on a long-term deal had begun. Forgotten in the events of the past four months is the fact that those talks may have hit a snag, unrelated to the off-field issues.
Here’s what Jay Glazer wrote in a mailbag for TheAthletic.com, several weeks after he called the shot of the offseason by predicting that Odell Beckham could be traded: “[T]here were questions in Kansas City about whether they could re-sign Tyreek Hill. I heard some rumblings at the start of free agency that his name was being thrown about in trade talks, but at the time thought it had to do with his contract more than anything else.”
It’s possible that the Chiefs had caught wind of what may be in the pipeline from a legal standpoint and explored cutting and running, but it’s hard to imagine coach Andy Reid deliberately sandbagging another team about a situation that, at the time, could have jeopardized Hill’s 2019 season and possibly beyond. So it’s possible that Hill simply wants more than the Chiefs are able or willing to pay, given that they soon will be both breaking the bank and blowing open the vault for Patrick Mahomes.
Contract talks are expected to resume soon regarding Hill. If there’s an impasse, a trade becomes one of the options, either in before the 2019 deadline (less likely) or in early 2020 (more likely, if the Chiefs decide to take that path).
The wildcard in all of this is rookie receiver Mecole Hardman. It was assumed when the Chiefs traded up to get Hardman in round two that he had become the Tyreek Hill short-term contingency plan. What if Hardman was actually the long-term contingency plan?
If Hills seeks (and he arguably deserves) $20 million per year, the Chiefs have Hardman under contract for four years at a total payout of less than $5 million. And coach Andy Reid already has made it clear that he believes Hardman could have the same impact as Hill has had.
“He’s got that same explosive power,” Reid said of Hardman in May, regarding comparisons to Hill and DeSean Jackson, whom Reid coached in Philadelphia (and also drafted in round two). “Now, DeSean was probably a little bit further along then Tyreek was at the position — [Hardman] is probably closer to where Tyreek was coming out as a wide receiver. DeSean was a phenomenal route runner coming out. You’ve seen the growth with Tyreek, and I think you’ll see it with this kid. But he catches well, he’s got great, secure, hands, and he can run like a son of a gun.”
If Hardman can deliver on that potential, it gives the Chiefs leverage in their talks with Hill, and choices in the event the Chiefs decide that it makes sense to do with Hill in 2020 the same thing they did with Ford in 2019: Apply the franchise tag, and then trade the player.
That approach would give the Chiefs a chance to evaluate Hardman for a full year in practices and games, with Hill possibly becoming the Alex Smith in this scenario — and Hardman becoming (if he can check all the boxes) the Mahomes.