Jamal Adams to Challenge Position if Tagged?

Just a few days ago the Seahawks and Jamal Adams were reportedly somewhat close to a deal, but according to Mike Florio of PFT is sounds as if the two sides are back to square one with the Seahawks threatening two franchise tags and Adams supposedly saying he won’t be tagged as a safety.

The Seahawks have very real leverage when it comes to the contract talks with safety Jamal Adams. Barring a long-term deal, they can pay him $9.86 million and then apply the franchise tag twice. With long-term talks bogged down, that’s what they currently plan to do.
Adams, we’re told, has a strategy of his own to deploy if that happens. Per a league source, Adams would file a grievance arguing that he’s a linebacker not a safety for franchise tag purposes.

This is a bit of an interesting wrinkle but one that comes with a great deal of risk. My personal estimate (it differs from the OTC page) is that the safety tag will cost $12.438 million in 2022 which would put a second tag at $14.926 million. The linebacker number is much higher since it primarily is based on the salaries of edge rushers. The linebacker tag is in the ballpark of $18 million in 2022 which would lead to a tag of $21.6 million in 2023.

The salary differential is gigantic as the safety tag is likely well under what Seattle is offering in new money from 2021 to 2023 while the linebacker tag is probably similar to or a bit more than what Seattle is currently offering in money to Adams. But can Adams successfully challenge the designation?

Few players have been successful in getting a position changed in the NFL. The most notable case was between Jimmy Graham and the Saints when Graham argued that he plays wide receiver in the Saints offense. The argument at the time was that he spent a majority of the time split out wide and wasn’t really used as an in-line blocker the way a traditional tight end was. As far as arguments go it was a decent one but one he lost with the nod being given to the Saints having used the tight end designation since day one.

There have been many grievances filed at linebacker with players looking to be designated a defensive end rather than a linebacker because in the past the DE was paid more than a linebacker. More often than not close calls there were settled between the team and the player with a tweener salary being paid with the two sides splitting the tag value of the two positions on a one year contract. Last year Shaq Barrett did seem to win a grievance contesting the designation, though I dont know if that was a grievance decision or the Bucs stopping their challenge. There have been others who have successfully been recognized as DEs after being designated at interior d-line for the option years.

Adams situation is more reminiscent of the Graham situation than the others, in my opinion. He has basically always been a safety and Seattle’s argument is that this is how we deploy a safety in the defense. I think this is far more subjective, like the tight end, than the LB/Edge situation where rushing the passer at the LOS lined up wide is often the role of the DE.

I think if Adams is going to challenge the designation and go to war with the Seahawks over it, it would make sense for him to challenge his option designation as a safety. To accept the safety designation in 2021 while fighting against it in 2022 is a harder one to accept. Players like Leonard Williams for example always challenged their positional designation even as a rookie. To me that at least sets a precedent for how you view yourself and probably opens up the window to gathering more information as to how you can better challenge it the following year.

The strategy itself is risky for Adams. If Adams fails to win a grievance in 2022 he could be looking at giving up three years of his career before getting a chance at a big money deal. Adams would be 29 at that point and probably will no longer be considered an elite talent in free agency. The market will have increased by then as well but the question is by how much?

I question how much Adams would actually earn as a free agent. Most, but not all, big free agent spenders are bad football teams. Given Adams’ exit from New York I think those teams would stay away in free agency. Even if he has no intention of signing with one of those teams it would eliminate him from using them as a negotiating ploy when trying to do a deal with a team like the Chiefs.

The safety market has also been very hit or miss in free agency. It has been minor growth with Landon Collins 7.7% market increase being the big jump in the last few years. That would equate to a deal for Adams in the ballpark of $16.5M a year, or about $1M a year less than the Seahawks are currently offering. Adams may be able to sell himself as a special player ala CJ Mosley a few years ago but even then you would be looking at a contract around $18.5M a season, give or take a bit. Waiting two years for that kind of deal while playing 2022 and 2023 for $27 million is a big risk for not much reward. It is a different calculation if he wins a grievance and earns nearly $40M on the tag across two years.

Some will say the Seahawks lost this the minute they traded for him without an extension. It was clearly a mistake on their part to not do an extension at that time and I think overall the trade is a clear failure since they did not do any better with him on the roster last year than they did without him on the roster the year before. That said Seattle would have the ability, if they can designate him as a safety, to keep Adams for four seasons at a cost of around $41 million from 2020 to 2023. That is not a bad outcome.

The bad outcomes are when the tag provisions are so big that it becomes difficult to tag a player. The Rams may have had a hard time tagging Ramsey two times. The Texans may have had a hard time tagging Tunsil two times. Seattle would have no such problem tagging Adams two times and I would think it is a high probability they would win a grievance against him. I would also think that if they did not want to deal with Adams on the tag they could probably trade him for a late 1 or 2, which would offset a lot of the loss in the trade.

To turn around and pay Adams $20 million a season as the next great linebacker would, in my opinion, make that trade far worse than the other options even if the optics of the extension and a happy player are much better than the alternative of sniping between the two sides for the next three seasons. I have to think that is what the Seahawks are thinking here and with a front office that has been there for ages they probably can deal with the “no extension” fall out better than most would be able to in their position.