From “Gang Green” to the Emerald City, we may finally have some closure on the Jamal Adams trade.
The Seahawks safety’s season came to a premature end on Sunday, with reports indicating he’ll undergo shoulder surgery that will sideline him for the remainder of the 2021 season. (While no one roots for injuries, the sound you hear is Jets fans taking a victory lap.)
Adams’ breakup with the Jets was pretty nasty; The defensive back called out the franchise and the head coach in a now-infamous New York Daily News article in 2020, which culminated in a trade a few days later, when he was sent to the Seahawks for a pair of first-round picks, a third-rounder and safety Bradley McDougald.
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While the trade made sense on paper, some eyebrows were raised for both sides. Why would the Jets, utterly devoid of talent, trade one of their only playmakers on the roster? On the other side, why would the Seahawks trade two first-round picks for a safety?
With Adams’ injury ending his season, that may bring some closure to the deal — and finally give us a definitive answer on who won it.
Who won the Jamal Adams trade?
The case for the Jets
Could New York use a player of Adams’ caliber this season? Yes, especially with their defense one of the worst ranked across the board in 2021. But there was also the question of contract, which was a predominant factor in the divorce.
The Jets and GM Joe Douglas were unwilling to meet Adams’ gaudy contract demands, which he eventually got from Seattle. In truth, New York paying that much money (four years, $72 million, $38 million guaranteed) to a safety who didn’t force turnovers as they were heading towards a total rebuild wouldn’t have been a wise organizational move. That contract, by the way, is the highest paid to a safety in NFL history.
In turn, the Jets shipped out Adams and used the extra first-round pick in 2021 (and packaged a pair of third-rounders) to move up and select offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker in this year’s draft. While he’s hit the rookie wall in recent weeks, Vera-Tucker has still graded out as one of the NFL’s best rookie guards and has allowed a single sack in 2021. That sack came in Week 1 vs. the Panthers, per PFF.
Vera-Tucker has a fair amount of room to grow as a player, but hard to label him anything one way or the other just yet. There’s also the added bonus of the Jets needing to protect quarterback Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick, giving Gang Green another young lineman to build with (2020 first-round pick Mekhi Becton is still nursing a knee injury).
There’s also a question of who Adams is as a player now: Before the injury in 2021, Adams’ numbers both as a pass rusher and as a cover safety weren’t very good. He had seven total pressures across 51 pass rush snaps in 2021 (106 pass rush snaps in 2020 for 34 pressures and an 86.1 pass rush grade), and a 47.4 coverage grade across 468 coverage snaps, the worst mark of his career. That number dipped from his career-worst in 2021.
Now, with another potential top-10 pick, the Jets have a fair amount of options: They could sit back and let other GMs call to move up to that pick in 2022, potentially select twice in the top 10 to shore up weak areas of the team or decide to trade that pick for a player — whoever that may be — that would help give them a veritable impact player in the immediate.
While it’s fair to criticize a team for trading away a star player, it’s hard to fault the Jets for getting such insane value (and avoiding such a massive contract) for a player who hasn’t quite worked out yet for the other side.
The case for the Seahawks
There’s also the question of where both teams are when it comes to competing: While the Seahawks were in better position to make a playoff run in 2021, injuries and inconsistency both played into a sub-par 4-8 record. The Jets, rebuilding, sit at 3-9 in the 2021 season. The Seahawks did make the playoffs in 2020 — as was a desire of Adams — but were bounced in the NFC divisional round by the Rams.
It’s never a bad thing to trade future first-rounders because you sense your championship window is open now. Just look at the Seahawks’ NFC West rival Rams, who won’t be picking in the first round until 2024, a perennial contender. There is the question, though, of the type of player you’ll be acquiring for those picks.
To that end, Seahawks GM John Schneider sensed they were in win-now mode and Pete Carroll’s famed “Legion of Boom” defenses relied heavily on quality secondary play, especially from the safeties. The hope was that Adams would continue to develop into a better cover safety. Unfortunately, Adams has yet to grow into the turnover-maker that Earl Thomas was during the height of his career in Seattle.
Instead, Adams was used a lot in pure pass-rushing situations for Seattle in 2020, resulting in 34 pressures (11 sacks, seven hits, 16 hurries, per PFF), improving on his numbers when he was a Jet the year before. Having a versatile weapon like that on defense can certainly help free things up and allow the D to get more creative.
The question then, is, what is Adams’ value if and when the Seahawks develop a traditional pass rush?
The Seahawks have four more years to figure it out given Adams’ contract extension, but it’s always hard to fault a team for feeling they were getting a game-changing DB in a win-now situation.
Ultimately, it looks like the Jets are on the winning end of the deal here.
The Seahawks were forced into a no-win situation once they traded the two first-rounders for Adams in July 2020 when it came to contract negotiations. Paying that hefty a price to acquire him in draft capital and subsequently losing leverage for any potential deal was tough, but a byproduct.
Now, Adams gets paid a lot of money to get after the quarterback, something he hadn’t done well this season.
The other issue: Adams has yet to develop a reputation for being a ball-hawking safety, which is why the trade for him from a Seahawks perspective didn’t make a lot of sense at the time. There was potentially a hope that Adams would develop into more of a well-rounded back-end player, but that didn’t happen in 2020, nor did it in 2021, despite very good coverage grades in 2018 and 2019 for the Jets (89.6 and 87.5 respectively, per PFF).
Now, with a certain murkiness over Seattle’s future past the 2021 season, the one way they can earn those picks back is to trade Russell Wilson this offseason, setting up the ‘Hawks for something Adams was hoping to avoid during his time in New York: A rebuild.
Funny how things work out.
Jamal Adams trade, revisited
The Adams saga with the Jets started somewhere during the 2019 season: Adams, in his third year with the Jets, was reportedly discussed in trade talks prior to the 2019 trade deadline. He also reportedly publicly lobbied to be traded to the Cowboys, his hometown team. At the time, the Jets and GM Joe Douglas were not shopping Adams, but listening to calls for Adams’ services.
Adams took that the wrong way.
“When I found out I was being shopped, when I found out I was on the verge of being traded, that was one of the teams I told [ESPN analyst Ryan Clark] I’d love to go to — the Dallas Cowboys,” Adams said in 2019.
Following the 2019 season and entering his fourth year in the league, Adams was eligible for a contract extension, and given his prior production with the team, felt he was in for a big payday. Reports indicated that Adams wanted to be paid roughly $20 million per year — that mark would make him among the NFL’s highest paid defensive players on face value, and the league’s highest paid safety, by far.
The Jets, entering a full rebuild of their own, seemingly scoffed the idea of paying Adams that much. Adams voiced his displeasure on more than one occasion, with Douglas and the Jets opting to hold their ground and not pay him, instead engaging in trade conversations surrounding him in the 2020 offseason once again.
Then, the bombshell report that essentially destroyed the relationship between the two sides: Speaking with the New York Daily News, Adams, disappointed with his contract situation and standing with the team, ripped head coach Adam Gase and GM Douglas in a very candid interview.
“I don’t feel like he’s the right leader for this organization to reach the Promised Land,” Adams said. “As a leader, what really bothers me is that he doesn’t have a relationship with everybody in the building.”
He continued to rip into the organization, this time setting targets on the GM.
“If they would have just simply said, ‘You know what, Jamal — we’re not going to look to pay you this year, we want to keep adding players — I would have respected that more,” Adams said. “I would say, ‘You know what? I respect it. As a man, I get it. I understand it’s a business.’ But for them to tell me that they’re going to pay me and then not send over a proposal after they said that’s what they were going to, that’s where we go wrong.”
Whether Adams felt disrespected by the organization or the timetable for the Jets to sign the safety didn’t line up with prior promises, the story was a breaking point between the two sides. Just days later, the Seahawks traded for the disgruntled Jets safety.
NFL analysts posited that the price, though, was fairly rich, especially for a safety who didn’t cause turnovers: the Seahawks sent a 2021 first-round pick, a 2021 third-round pick, a 2022 first-round pick and safety Bradley McDougald to the Jets for Adams and a fourth-round pick. Eyebrows were raised: Adams, while a very good pass rusher as a defensive back, long faced critiques for his lack of strong coverage ability ont he back end.
While PFF measured Adams’ coverage grade as well above average in both 2018 and 2019 (89.6 and 87.5, respectively), his arrival in Seattle was less kind. In Pete Carroll’s safety-reliant defensive scheme, Adams notched a 52.5 coverage grade, the worst of his career. Adams did deal with injuries in 2020, but that number was still the worst mark of his four-year stint in the league.
It wasn’t all bad, though: Adams notched 9 1/2 sacks as a DB, setting the NFL record for a defensive back.
Adams had to wait a year to get the money he was looking for, too, and even off a down year overall, he cashed in: Adams received a four-year, $70 million contract in 2021, with $38 million guaranteed. That deal puts him at $17.5 million per year, under the $20 million he was looking at, but still putting him among the game’s highest-paid.
Now, Adams looks to continue to help a Seattle defense that’s been less-than good in 2021. If he can lift them up, that would be fairly presidential.