It’s difficult to predict the outcome in the case of Jamal Adams and the Jets, other than Joe Douglas maybe not answering Jerry Jones’s phone calls anymore. About two weeks ago, Adams requested a trade, the latest chapter of the long book of Jets malaise.
Adams’s discontent stems back to last October, when he was upset that Douglas, the team’s general manager, took calls from other teams inquiring about Adams’s availability. The Ravens and Cowboys were among those teams, according to multiple reports, with Dallas showing the most interest. The deal fell through when, according to NFL Network, Douglas said the Jets expected a first-round draft pick and two second-round picks in return for Adams. It’s easy to see how Douglas could say he was placing a high value on Adams, but Adams felt betrayed to even be up for discussion after the Jets had made him feel like a cornerstone player.
“The Rams, they don’t take calls on Aaron Donald. The Patriots don’t take calls on Tom Brady,” Adams said at the time.
Those feelings have been exacerbated by a lack of movement toward a contract extension, which Adams would like, and on June 18, the 24-year-old safety gave the Jets a list of teams he’d rather play for. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Adams would welcome a trade to the Ravens, Cowboys, Texans, Chiefs, Eagles, 49ers, or Seahawks; ESPN’s Ryan Clark added that Adams would also join former division rival Brady in Tampa.
Now that Adams is open to a trade on his own terms, he’s become one of a growing number of NFL players who have tried to facilitate a move to a team of their choosing, with varying degrees of success.
There’s an old tale from former Packers guard Jerry Kramer’s book Instant Replay that football lifers like to bring up as evidence of how the league is built for top-down control. During the 1963 season, Packers center Jim Ringo, a future Hall of Famer, asked head coach Vince Lombardi for a raise. Lombardi listened to the request, excused himself from the meeting, returned a few minutes later, and told Ringo he’d been traded to the Eagles. The message of the story is that trades are something that happen to players; they’re not something players demand.
Players like Jalen Ramsey, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Trent Williams, Antonio Brown, and Jadeveon Clowney have recently challenged this assumption by orchestrating their departures from teams, prompting some outcry that the NFL is going the way of the NBA, a league in which star players frequently influence where they play.
“Front offices in the NFL are going to have to deal with the fact that if you lose a couple games or get into an altercation, that guy is going to demand a trade. He’s a big name—what are you going to do about it? I think at this point it seems like they’re capitulating to it,” Steve Young said on ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown last September. His comments came after Brown signed with the Patriots after being released by the Raiders and while Ramsey and Fitzpatrick were making it known they didn’t want to play for the Jaguars or Dolphins anymore.
Leaving aside that it’s unclear what the future will look like in the event NFL players were given a smidge more agency, this is not a new phenomenon. Players like Eli Manning, John Elway, and Joe Montana have facilitated moves to teams of their choosing. Quarterbacks always have greater leverage, though, and perhaps the lesson from recent examples like Ramsey, Fitzpatrick, and Clowney, all of whom landed in their favored destinations, is that the barrier to entry is coming down slightly.
Adams is one of the best safeties in the league. He’s a vocal leader in New York’s defense, a team captain, and is entering the prime of his career. But from a contract perspective, he doesn’t have much leverage—he’s two years away from free agency, assuming the Jets pick up his fifth-year option. It’s exceedingly rare for a player in Adams’s situation to get an extension this early into his rookie contract. Only four defenders drafted in the first round since 2011—J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn, Patrick Peterson, and Luke Kuechly—have gotten contract extensions after their third seasons.
Adams could refuse to report to training camp, but holdouts have been made more difficult by the new CBA negotiated this past March. In the new deal, a player who doesn’t report for the beginning of training camp loses a year of credit toward free agency. Under the old deal, that penalty was enforced when a player didn’t report 30 days before the start of the regular season. Holding out would be costly in both the immediate and long term for Adams. As for the Jets, they’re reportedly not interested in trading him and aren’t in a rush to do a new deal, given that they have two more years of team control.
Holding out, though, hasn’t always been the best strategy to force a trade. Players like Fitzpatrick, Ramsey, and Clowney have gotten teams to agree to their demands by forcing the issue from within, playing while expressing their displeasure, while holdouts like Melvin Gordon and Le’Veon Bell haven’t always gotten what they wanted even after lengthy holdouts. Getting yourself traded in the NFL can be like getting screen time on a reality show: It’s easier if you’re willing to let things get messy. It’s not foolproof, but it helps. Earl Thomas left the Seahawks in free agency last year after multiple trade requests, plenty of consternation, and a very public middle finger. Ramsey argued with Jaguars VP of football operations Tom Coughlin and fought on the sidelines with coach Doug Marrone before he was traded to the Rams last October. Williams sat out an entire year and waited out an entire coaching regime before getting traded from Washington to San Francisco this offseason. When he was in Pittsburgh, Brown missed Week 17 of the 2018 season and fought with Ben Roethlisberger before forcing his way to Oakland, and eventually New England.
Adams has a few things going for him. He’s a popular, charismatic player with a big following on social media. He’s already proved himself adept at stirring the pot by posting about his issues with the team. Last week, Adams quote-tweeted a post by fellow Jets safety Marcus Maye and told him that he would “miss” playing with him, an apparent attempt to speak his departure from New York into existence. For the past two weeks, Jets headlines have mostly been about Adams’s situation; it was at least partly a catalyst for a New York Daily News article claiming that Adam Gase is not well-liked in the locker room and is “a major factor” in Adams’s displeasure. On Friday, Gase talked to reporters and addressed the situation for the first time.
“This is a tough part of the business, when one of your best players is working through things with our organization,” Gase said. “We have to figure out a way to get to a good place, which will get him back, in the right spot and ready to go.”
Time will tell if they’re able to. What’s clear is that Adams doesn’t have much leverage based on his contract situation or ability to hold out. What’s not clear is the degree to which he’ll be willing to force the issue and make his bosses miserable, or the degree to which they’ll be willing to put up with it.