Sauce Gardner on Mecole Hardman: 'Never earned his stripes'

ByRich Cimini ESPN logo
Tuesday, March 12, 2024

New York Jets star cornerbackSauce Gardner, taken aback by Mecole Hardman's recent criticism of the team, called out his former teammate in a podcast interview.

Appearing on "The Pivot," hosted by Ryan Clark, Gardner said Hardman "never earned his stripes" with the Jets. He also accused Hardman of being "ungrateful" to the organization, which traded him to the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

"If you really know what it takes to win," Gardner said, "you're going make sure you let the team know. ... The reason he couldn't do that is because he never earned his stripes. He came to the facility and thought he had it made for him.

"If you know what it takes to win, you're not going to go to practice and drop hella punts and then have excuses as to why you're dropping them. You're not going to go into a special teams meeting and get cussed out by the special teams coordinator. There's just certain things that are not going to happen if you truly know what it takes to win."

The war of words started two weeks ago, when Hardman -- also a guest on "The Pivot" -- blasted the Jets' culture, criticizing the coaches and painting the organization as dysfunctional in the aftermath of Aaron Rodgers' season-ending injury in Week 1.

Hardman said he was so disgruntled that he asked the Chiefs, his team from 2019 to 2022, to "come get me" during the season. They did, acquiring the wide receiver in an Oct. 19 trade that ended his brief and disappointing time in New York.

After Hardman's podcast appearance, Gardner was one of a few players on the Jets who fired back on social media. In a since-deleted post, Gardner implied that Hardman had leaked a game plan to the Philadelphia Eagles before their Oct. 15 game. Hardman denied that in a subsequent post.

Gardner wasn't asked about that during the podcast. Initially "caught off guard" by Hardman's criticism, the two-time All-Pro defended the team's coaches and the culture. He said, "There's some good that we can take from what he said," adding that he's "proud" of Hardman for winning the Super Bowl and scoring the game winner in overtime.

But Hardman went too far by ripping the Jets, Gardner said.

"You can't really discredit the Jets, especially him individually," he said. "They sent you back to a contender team. They sent you back to the Chiefs, and you won the Super Bowl. I feel like that's ungrateful. I feel like he shouldn't have gone on there, talking about the Jets, because he could've just taken the high road. You just won the Super Bowl, and you had the game-winning catch."

Hardman currently is a free agent.

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