NFL trades are rarely win-wins for both teams, but this Sheldon Richardson–to-Seattle deal looks like it qualifies. The Seattle Seahawks traded wide receiver Jermaine Kearse and a second-round pick to the Jets in exchange for Richardson on Friday. The teams will also swap seventh-round picks.
Richardson has been expendable ever since the Jets drafted Leonard Williams in 2015 to play alongside stalwart Muhammad Wilkerson on New York’s defensive line. With Richardson’s contract expiring at the end of the season, the Jets have been trying to deal him all year. It’s a continuation of the expiring-contract, NBA-style trade finally coming to the NFL.
Jets GM Mike Maccagnan has netted a second-round pick (and likely moved down 20 spots in the seventh round) in exchange for a player who wasn’t a part of his plans for the future, outpacing even the Jets’ wildest dreams of getting a third-round compensatory pick for Richardson. It also makes the team worse this season, aiding its bid to get the no. 1 overall draft pick. Pat yourself on the back, Mike, and welcome to the assets arms race, Jets fans. Cleveland has a bit of a head start.
The Jets nabbed Kearse in the deal, a player whose greatest claim to fame is making a ridiculous bobbling catch in Super Bowl XLIX that should have been the third consecutive reception of divine intervention to swing a Super Bowl away from the New England Sith Empire, following those of David Tyree and Mario Manningham before him (Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell blew that one when he infamously didn’t give Marshawn Lynch the ball on the goal line, but Kearse did his job). Kearse may be clutch when the season is on the line, but the Jets aren’t even going fishing this year. With two seasons left of his three-year, $13.5 million deal, Kearse seems a cursory part of the deal. If he ends up a part of the Jets’ future, that’s icing on the cake.
This is also an excellent move for Seattle. Richardson has endured some bad Jets teams, and now he’s heading to a legitimate Super Bowl contender and will probably play meaningful football in January (and December, and November) for the first time in his NFL career. He’s declined from his peak 2014 Pro Bowl form, but on a truly competitive team for the first time and in a contract year, we may see Richardson more motivated than ever before.
Acquiring a gap-clogging, space-eating, double-team-inducing guy like Richardson has a domino effect that isn’t visible on the stat sheet but helps every aspect of the defense. Seattle has one of the best defenses in the league, but it’s soft in the middle. Richardson was graded as an 81.6 (out of 100) by Pro Football Focus last season, about 30 points higher than Seattle’s closest interior defender. Richardson eating space is going to make Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Frank Clark more effective rushing the passer off the edge.
The Legion of Boom is at its best when Seattle can consistently rush the passer, transforming their great defense into an elite defense, as evidenced by their 2014 Super Bowl run. The AFC is clearly the Patriots’ domain, but with the Falcons reeling from their Super Bowl loss, the NFC is wide open. It’s a wise move from GM John Schneider, who’s putting his foot on the gas to try to win a Super Bowl this season with a championship-level core.
The Jets lined up trades for Richardson earlier this season, but Richardson refused to restructure his contract. Now less than a week before the season, the Seahawks are pushing in their chips on a Super Bowl run, Richardson is getting his full $8 million, and the Jets are making 0-16 more likely this season. A win-win-lose is a win-win-win.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece said that the Jets were likely to move up roughly 20 spots in the seventh round due to a pick swap. They are likely to move down based on each team’s expected record.