OK, first things first: The NFL needs to chill the hell out. Or at the very least spread things out a bit. There’s too much news. Just when you think you can catch your breath following Baker Mayfield’s trade request—maybe sit down, relax, watch some of the NCAA tournament—the Packers send Davante Adams to the Raiders, who immediately make him the highest-paid receiver in league history with a five-year, $141.3 million contract.
This feels like a new thing, right? Blockbuster trades were a rarity in the NFL even five years ago, and now it seems like we get two or three every offseason. Maybe that’s because a new generation of executives are more willing to wheel and deal, or maybe it’s due to the growing influence of analytics. Whatever it is, teams are just more aggressive when it comes to adding talent.
That has certainly been the case in the AFC West this offseason. We’ve already seen the Broncos trade for Russell Wilson, the Chargers deal for Khalil Mack and sign J.C. Jackson to an $82.5 million deal, and now the Raiders follow up their signing of Chandler Jones with the Adams trade.
A lot of these deals seem to be in an effort to keep up with the Chiefs—the reigning division champs and AFC title game regulars. And some teams are closer to that goal than others. The Chargers were gifted a shortcut when Justin Herbert, who might be the biggest threat to Patrick Mahomes’s QB title belt, fell into their lap two years ago. Denver was finally able to solve its long-standing quarterback problem when Wilson decided he was fed up with Seattle’s shtick. And though the Raiders didn’t have an obvious avenue for upgrading their quarterback this offseason, they’ve found ways to surround Derek Carr, who’s pretty good, with enough talent to make up for whatever deficiencies he might have compared to the other passers in the division.
Will adding Adams and Jones close the gap between the Raiders and the Chiefs? Probably not. But what’s the alternative? Just playing dead for the next decade-plus and waiting for Mahomes’s career to peter out? No—the Raiders are dreaming big, and they really have nothing to lose in the process. Giving up 2022 first- and second-round picks for the right to pay Adams all that money is a bit reckless, but Kansas City probably would have had the edge whether Vegas managed its salary cap dollars well or not.
The draft capital the Raiders gave up in the trade is a lot for a receiver—even one as talented as Adams. And the contract was … forget about positional value, I’m wondering whether Mark Davis can even afford to pay it. Las Vegas will owe Adams an average of $28 million a season over the next five years. We only just got used to the idea of a $30 million quarterback; I’m not sure my brain can process that kind of money for a single receiver. Per Spotrac, only nine teams will allocate more than $28 million on their entire receiving corps in 2022.
The price tag pretty much explains why the Packers felt comfortable shipping Adams off. Last week, I advocated for Green Bay’s front office to just say screw it and mortgage the future to maximize the end of Aaron Rodgers’s career, thinking that re-signing Adams would be a key step in that plan. But not at $28 million a year! NFL analysts like to say things like “You cannot overpay for a talent like Adams,” but in a league governed by a hard salary cap, that is simply not true. And even though the Packers were reportedly willing to give Adams the same deal the Raiders did, they would not have been wise to do so. There is a finite amount of money Green Bay can use to build its roster, and with an average of $50 million per year already owed to Rodgers over the coming seasons, spending another significant portion of the cap on Adams isn’t a smart way to use it.
Still, losing Adams will hurt the Packers in ways that are both obvious and not. Green Bay’s passing game was centered around Adams. He ran the bubble screens that prevented defenses from selling out against the run. He ran back-shoulder fades when defenses tried to play tight man coverage. He ran the quick-hitting routes on first down to get the team ahead of the chains, and ran the tough routes over the middle on third down. He did everything.
here is the packers target heat map from this season with closed captioning on pic.twitter.com/B5Q7GVtA5Y— Seth Galina (@pff_seth) January 12, 2022
Even when Adams didn’t get the ball, his gravity opened up opportunities for other players. He pulled safeties away from Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard on deep passes, and opened up the middle of the field for Randall Cobb.
Finding another receiver who can fill that do-it-all role will be impossible. But the Packers could use the money Adams wanted and the draft capital they got in the trade to build a more well-rounded roster. Maybe they’ll be able to construct an offense that isn’t reliant on the Rodgers-Adams connection, which allowed defenses to take extreme measures without fear of getting exploited elsewhere on the field:
One thing the Ravens weren’t going to do yesterday: let Davante Adams have a huge day.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 20, 2021
Aaron Rodgers told Adams in the tunnel after the game: “That’s the greatest respect level that somebody can give you, to literally line up two guys on you for the majority of the game.” pic.twitter.com/l3AxK0SpR0
The truth is, the Packers were never going to be able to improve on last year’s team while also ponying up for Adams. The front office was already looking under couch cushions for money to keep a close approximation of the 2021 team intact—and we’ve seen that team’s ceiling. They just lost a home playoff game to Jimmy Garoppolo. Last season was that roster’s “last dance” for a reason.
Given all the reporting that has come out since news of the trade first dropped, it seems like Rodgers was aware that he would not be throwing passes to Adams this season before he decided to extend his time in Green Bay. In his postgame presser following the Niners loss, Rodgers said he didn’t want to be a part of a rebuild. The early offseason moves—the Rodgers deal, extending Preston Smith, re-signing De’Vondre Campbell, etc.—suggest the Packers front office shares that sentiment. So it seems that both the team and quarterback believe this move will improve their chances of winning a Super Bowl next year. We’ll find out whether that’s true this fall.
The Raiders, meanwhile, definitely believe the trade has improved their odds of winning it all. And maybe they should. This team was one successful red zone trip away from knocking off the AFC champion Bengals on their home field, and it just added the league’s preeminent red zone threat. The Raiders have also replaced Jon Gruden with one of the league’s most celebrated play-callers in Josh McDaniels and swapped out Gus Bradley’s predictable and rigid defensive scheme for Patrick Graham’s highly adaptable system.
For the first time in my adult life, I feel confident saying the Raiders will be good. I can say the same about the Packers, too—even after losing the second-most-important player on the team. Still, it’s hard to say that either team involved in this trade is a winner. The Raiders are paying way too much for a receiver. The Packers just let the focal point of their passing game leave the building. But standing pat was never going to work for either side. Not in today’s NFL.