The New York Jets’ recent trade of Mecole Hardman appears to have had less to do with the veteran wide receiver and more about an unheralded young player earning more playing time.

Coach Robert Saleh revealed Monday that rookie Xavier Gipson’s emergence forced the Jets hand in the decision to trade Hardman to the Kansas City Chiefs last week for a Day 3 pick in the 2025 NFL Draft.

“He’s the major reason (why the Jets traded Hardman),” Saleh said about Gipson.

Hardman had a “Hmmm” reaction on social media after hearing Saleh’s trade explanation.

Xavier Gipson emerging as key player for Jets

There’s no question the Jets value Gipson more than Hardman. The undrafted rookie from Stephen P. Austin University beat out Hardman to be the No. 1 kick and punt returner. And now the Jets want to incorporate the explosive Gipson more into the offense.

While Gipson’s stock is on the rise, Hardman’s couldn’t have fallen more. Hardman was “battling injury,” per Saleh, and as he was trying to “get back up to speed” throughout training camp and the start of the season, Gipson forced his way into the picture.

Saleh said Jets coaches thought “Man this guy is really freaking good” and that the Hardman trade was “more a testament to Xavier Gipson because Mecole Hardman was dealing with injuries and [Gipson] ran with it.”

Hardman was signed by the Jets to a one-year, $4 million contract this past offseason. However, he played only 28 offensive snaps in five games and was inactive for another. He had one catch for six yards.

Meanwhile, Gipson took a punt return 65 yards to the house for the game-winning touchdown in overtime in Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills. And he’s seen an uptick in playing time recently on offense, including being used on gadget plays like end arounds and jet sweeps.

That was expected to be Hardman’s role with the Jets. But apparently that role was taken away by Gipson, forcing the bye week trade.