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The Jamal Adams Trade Resets the Jets’ Future—and Shows the Seahawks Are All in on the Present

Seattle sent New York two first-round picks in a deal to land the young superstar. It’s a lot to give up for someone who doesn’t play what is typically considered a premium position, but Adams isn’t a typical safety.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Rare is the NFL trade that immediately appears to make sense for both parties, but that’s exactly what we got on Saturday. After spending the past few months trying to plot his escape from the Jets, Jamal Adams finally got his wish. New York sent the All-Pro safety and a 2022 fourth-round pick to the Seahawks in exchange for two first-round picks (in 2021 and 2022), a 2021 third-rounder, and veteran safety Bradley McDougald. It’s a massive haul for Jets general manager Joe Douglas, especially for someone who doesn’t play what is widely considered a premium position. But the deal seems to align with the vision that both franchises have, for the present and the future.

The knee-jerk reaction is that Seattle gave up a lot for Adams, who will likely ask for a market-setting extension as part of the deal and now has the leverage to make it happen. Two first-round picks is a hefty investment, particularly considering that the other players who’ve fetched that much in recent trades have been an elite pass rusher (Khalil Mack), left tackle (Laremy Tunsil), and cornerback (Jalen Ramsey). But I wouldn’t be surprised if Douglas used those deals as a starting point in negotiations. Safeties aren’t typically a high-value position, but Adams isn’t a typical safety. He lined up at nearly every defensive position for the Jets last season and finished with 13 quarterback hits, seven pass breakups, 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception. According to Pro Football Focus, Adams tallied 23 disrupted dropbacks on just 90 pass-rush snaps, making him by far the most disruptive pass rusher in the NFL on a per-play basis. Douglas likely made clear to Seattle that Adams was a young superstar first and a safety second—and young superstars aren’t traded in the NFL for less than two first-round picks.

From the Jets’ perspective, the Seahawks’ final offer was too good to turn down. On one hand, Adams sure seems like the sort of building block a rebuilding team like the Jets would want to hang on to: He’s a versatile, impactful defender who could have been a foundational presence for years to come. Even as Adams loudly and publicly tried to force a trade, the Jets had no reason to entertain low-ball offers. But when a team offers two first-round picks and a starting-caliber safety in exchange for someone who wants out anyway, it’d be irresponsible not to consider it. Douglas had no reason to listen to the Adams noise and let another team pilfer the best player on his roster, but New York’s return in this deal is proof that he was negotiating from a position of strength.

When Douglas was handed the Jets GM job in June 2019, he faced a brutal uphill climb following years of organizational incompetence. Only a year later, his version of the franchise is starting to take shape. The Jets are considerably worse without Adams in the short term, but adding two first-round picks could provide a huge lift for a team trying to determine its long-term plan and direction. After this season, Douglas can also move on from several expensive free-agent deals that were signed before he arrived. The Jets are poised to enter the 2021 offseason with considerable cap flexibility, even if the cap settles around the agreed-upon $175 million floor, plus multiple first-round picks. This was a chance for Douglas to hit the reset button and position the Jets for future success.

Seattle’s thinking here is more complicated, and deserving of a bit more scrutiny. Dealing for Adams falls in line with the aggressive approach that GM John Schneider has embraced during his tenure. In the past calendar year alone, the Seahawks have traded for pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, safety Quandre Diggs, defensive back Quinton Dunbar, and now Adams. And if we go back a little further, Schneider parted with first-round picks when trading for Percy Harvin and Jimmy Graham. He’s a GM who’s willing to turn over every rock to improve his roster, and that mindset has paid dividends.

Clowney and Diggs were each available at stunning discounts last year, and both made immediate impacts for Pete Carroll’s defense. The difference with the Adams trade is that this isn’t an instance of Schneider raiding another roster for value. Seattle paid full freight to bring Adams into the fold. The move comes with more risk than any trade that Schneider has ever pulled off, and that speaks to Seattle’s thinking.

It may not have been obvious because the Seahawks continued winning at a decent clip, but the franchise underwent its own version of a rebuild over the past couple of seasons. As the Legion of Boom era ended, Schneider purged Seattle’s roster of nearly all its pricey veteran contracts. The franchise followed that de facto reset by temporarily making Russell Wilson the highest-paid QB in the NFL with a four-year, $140 million deal; a few months later, it made Bobby Wagner the league’s highest-paid linebacker by handing him a three-year, $54 million extension. The thought was that Wilson and Wagner would act as the centerpieces on offense and defense, respectively, and that the Seahawks could use their newfound flexibility to build around them however they chose. With so much blank canvas to work with, Schneider has attacked the trade market whenever a potential impact player has become available, and he’s done it again with Adams. Seattle is set to have more than $30 million in cap space for 2021, even if the cap settles at the $175 million floor. The Seahawks were uniquely positioned to make this sort of splash move—for more reasons than one.

Wilson is the foundational piece of Seattle’s recent team-building model, and the reason Schneider likely felt comfortable making a bold move to snag Adams. While there’s been plenty of hand-wringing about the Seahawks’ offensive philosophy, Wilson is good enough to make this team relevant in the NFC no matter the strategy. The Seahawks have won at least 10 games in seven of his eight seasons as a starter, and in recent years a disproportionate amount of that success is due to Wilson’s greatness. When the Bears traded for Mack and the Rams traded for Ramsey, they didn’t have the quarterback certainty that Seattle has with Wilson. The Adams trade is undeniably risky, but the Seahawks are operating as if they’ll be a force in the NFC both this season and for years to come. And given the success they’ve had with Wilson and Carroll, that’s reasonable. When your baseline season includes double-digit wins, the leap to Super Bowl contender doesn’t take much. Carroll and his staff have been phenomenal at quickly incorporating new players and deploying them in ways that maximize their talents.

For a Seahawks defense with significant questions about its pass rush, Adams is the sort of multifaceted star who could compensate for other flaws and put this team over the top. And for two first-round picks, he better. When a team with a spotty draft record makes a move like this, a common refrain in NFL circles is that those picks probably would have gone to waste anyway. In most cases, that line of thinking is silly. Draft success has proved over time to be random. The most important factor in building great teams through the draft is consistently having enough picks to get multiple chances at finding the right players.

In Seattle’s case, though, the recent draft record actually does play a role. Picking near the bottom of the first round the past few years, the Seahawks have consistently taken low-ceiling players at devalued positions. Running back Rashaad Penny, pass rusher L.J. Collier, and linebacker Jordyn Brooks were all first-round picks that were immediately met with criticism about positional value. The argument against trading first-round picks is that the potential and cost control associated with those selections is too precious to throw away. Well, the Seahawks’ recent approach has put an artificial cap on that part of that equation, and their failure to find quality players has led to financial ramifications as well.

One drawback of trading for a player only to give him a monster extension is that it depletes the cap resources a team might need to eventually sign its own draft picks. For the Seahawks, their recent draft stumbles have removed that obligation. Seattle’s 2016 first-round pick Germain Ifedi is already off the roster. Neither of their 2017 second-rounders is in line for a big extension; in fact, defensive tackle Malik McDowell is out of the league entirely. Penny was displaced by late-round pick Chris Carson as the team’s starting running back. And even if Collier comes on this season, the most lucrative parts of his deal will likely kick in after the initial guarantees in an Adams extension would have already been paid. While cornerback Shaquill Griffin is set to be a free agent next offseason and is in line for a new deal, the Seahawks otherwise don’t have any major looming financial commitments on the horizon. Even with the cap uncertainty, Seattle should still have the space to comfortably fit Adams on the books when his extension kicks in.

The Seahawks’ roster makeup and promising outlook are reasons why evaluating trades like this in a vacuum is tough. Based on the terms, it’s undeniable that Seattle overpaid for Adams, but it’s easy to understand why Schneider was willing to make the trade anyway. It’s a win-now move for a team built to win now. And for the Jets, it’s a savvy long-term move for a team playing the long game. Both Schneider and Douglas likely went to bed on Saturday believing they’d gotten the better end of the deal. That says everything you need to know.