The rumor mill is once again swirling around Jets All Pro safety Jamal Adams as the Jets are apparently hesitant to give him an extension which has Adams reportedly very upset again with the organization. Trade rumors started again which sources close to the Jets have denied but I think these are interesting situations and worth exploring.
Player’s like Adams are very hard to sometimes take a fair look at. On one side there is the player and there really are little holes in his game. He is arguably the best overall safety in the NFL. He plays up in the box, can rush the passer a bit more than others and can cover well enough in the secondary. He’s the best player on the Jets at the moment.
However, being the best player on a bad team sometimes doesn’t carry the same value as the same player on a good team. Since Adams arrived in New York the Jets are 16-32. His being the best safety has made little impact on the overall success or failure of the team. That isn’t a knock on him its just that there is only so much a safety can do to increase the chances of winning for a team. Adams being at the peak of his career isn’t going to make the Jets a 10 win team. It is also one of the reasons why the league values safety on the lower end of the salary spectrum, basically on par with running backs and tight ends.
That said to a good team that considers themselves a Super Bowl contender whatever added value that safety brings can be worth a lot because getting from 11 to 12 or 12 to 13 wins on a year is huge as is getting that one added win in the playoffs. While Adams isn’t going to make a bad team great or even good he can be considered a game changer in a different kind of situation. If that is something the Jets can exploit it can bring more value than the player himself.
Adams still has two years remaining on his current contract which makes him very valuable around the NFL. That value will diminish after this season as his salary increases from $3.5 to $9.86 million and teams lose that valuable year of control. So the max trade value is going to be in 2020 not 2021. My guess is a fair trade package would be a first round draft pick plus either a third or fourth round draft selection in return for Adams.
The final piece in evaluating a trade will be the money associated with it. My assumption is that Adams should be looking for $17 million a season from the Jets. He was being shopped for two number 1 picks last year and is considered the best player on the defense. The current high value contract on the Jets is CJ Mosley at $17M per season so I think it is a reasonable ask. Mosley did not play a high value position and the Jets went way over the top of the market to sign him. There is no reason that they should not do that for Adams. While Im sure some are going to argue that the Mosley contract is on the prior GM I think its also clear that that was an Adam Gase target not to mention that the contract guys are all the same now too. For the sake of argument lets say that Adams would sign for the standard safety number contract at $15M a season when considering a trade just because I am sure the Jet fan would like the cheapest number to consider.
With those numbers we can start some scenario analysis. The first scenario is to keep Adams and to just use your regular budget to address other positions having to spend $14.5M for someone like James Bradberry or $20M for a Yannick Ngakoue If he (or a similar player) was to shake loose.
The second scenario is the trade. If traded I would expect a mid first round draft pick to cost around $4.6 million a season and a mid third round pick will cost $1.1 million a year. That should leave the Jets with an extra $9.3 million per year to spend on a player or players in free agency. So now we are at a 1st, a 3rd, and $9.3 million.
Odds are you will not find a player who is as good as Adams with whatever first rounder you ultimately end up with but if you play the game better you may find someone more valuable. As I mentioned above the veteran salary scale would indicate that safety is not very valuable by themselves. But that first round pick could be used to help get a quarterback if Sam Darnold busts. Clearly that is more valuable. It can be used on an edge rusher, a wide receiver, or a cornerback. Each of those will likely provide more impact on the teams fortunes even if the player is a very good player but not the best at the position. Those are also players that you can not find, or rarely find, in free agency. The third round pick should provide a team with a solid “lunchpail” type player that can start or be a solid situational contributor.
Just to use some Jets players of the past who were not all time greats but might illustrate the kind of return would be something like Jamal Adams for Antonio Cromartie and Brian Winters. The savings could have been used in free agency to cover the cost of signing someone like Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix as a replacement safety and maybe a pairing of Kevin Johnson to help in the secondary and Shelby Harris to play on the line or just spend it all on a player like Chris Harris.
The key for a strategy like this to work is to find whatever way possible to maximize your return in the draft by using the main pick on a position that you rarely can buy in free agency and one that provides massive value between the rookie contract number and veteran contract number for an equivalent player. If you decide to be the Raiders and use a 1st rounder on a running back (or just draft another safety to replace Adams) you are negating the value of the trade.
Lets take this one step further. Lets say the Jets use that pick on a cornerback. While maybe it’s a 50-50 proposition he is good, free agency often isn’t much better as the Trumaine Johnson signing proved. You would have spent $14.5 million to sign a player in free agency. Now you don’t have to because you got an extra draft pick to use on a premier position like that. From that standpoint the Jets have actually opened up far more than what we mentioned above because they are addressing a need cheaply. When I mentioned Ngakoue and Bradberry above odds are you would not sign two expensive free agents in most years so if you play your cards right you are opening up the possibility to address both needs by drafting one spot and signing the other. If you had budgeted $14.5M to spend on a need you can divide that however you want now. That route doesn’t exist without the trade.
There are other factors that are negatives with a trade. One of the reasons I thought Adams would have been extended by now was because when the Jets did not finalize a trade last year and let it leak out they looked bad. Sometimes situations like that don’t exactly go over well in the locker room either. While the Jets draft picks in recent years have been average at best the fact is around that room they have seen Leonard Williams shipped out, Darron Lee shipped out, Robby Anderson shipped out, etc… while new faces have come in and taken the cash from the team. You cant really put a number on those kind of things.
It is also worth reiterating that these are just rumors. The Jets may simply have decided they don’t want to get into the concept of extending after 3 years. With a quarterback contract in the wings they probably need to see much more from Darnold before even entertaining that discussion and waiting here gives them more footing with Darnold and players in the future that waiting until after year 4 is the right way to do business with them. Perhaps they want to see where the contracts with Justin Simmons and Anthony Harris land if they sign new deals in July. It can also be as simple as the Jets being cautious with the pandemic and not frontloading a contract with less than expected revenues coming in.
But I just think when you are a team that is as bad as the Jets have been you have to consider trading away players who are labelled as cornerstone talents if you can find a viable path in which the trade actually makes the team better overall. I think this is a case where it could make the Jets better overall and certainly cant make them much worse than they have been the last three years.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.