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Why a Jamal Adams contract extension should be the top offseason priority for the Jets

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Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Jets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Jets safety Jamal Adams recently reached a couple of milestones. He was named an AP All Pro for the second consecutive season. After making the Second Team in 2018, he was named to the First Team in 2019.

Adams also reached the end of his third season in the NFL. That is a notable benchmark for impact guys. After three years in the league, players become eligible to sign a long-term contract extension.

The Jets need to accomplish a lot this offseason, but I think their top priority should be to work out a long-term deal with their star safety. Allow me to explain why.

Jamal Adams is a superstar.

Sometimes numbers are deceptive. This is not one of those cases. I don’t know how you can look at those statistics and come to any conclusion other than Jamal Adams is a special talent.

What about positional value?

This is a question asked frequently about Adams and other players. In the NFL positions are not equal. Some positions have more value than others. Safety is generally viewed as one of the least valuable positions.

Does this mean Jamal Adams is unworthy of big money I say no.

I don’t dismiss the concept of positional value, but I don’t think it is based heavily on the top players in the league. An elite player at any position can be a game-changer.

When I think about positional value, most of the analysis should be on lower level talents.

The edge rusher with the 20th most sacks in the NFL in 2019 had 7. That isn’t an elite performance, but it comes with a degree of value.

The 20th place performances at the safety position put up 57 solo tackles, 1 sack, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 quarterback hits, and 1 forced fumble.

What about coverage? Most safeties tend to vary between being adequate and poor. Still it doesn’t make much of a difference because few teams run their passing attack through tight ends or running backs (the players a safety would cover). Only six tight ends or running backs averaged more than 60 receiving yards per game in 2019. That is compared with 32 such wide receivers.

Most defenses get exposed when they face an elite receiving running back or tight end, but most weeks teams you can get by with an adequate safety.

Back to positional value, these factors are why the 20th highest paid edge rusher makes approximately $12 million per year while the 20th highest paid safety makes half of that, around $6 million. An adequate edge rusher is far more valuable than an adequate safety.

Jamal Adams isn’t merely an adequate safety, though. Unlike other opponents, that rare elite receiving tight end or running back doesn’t destroy the Jets.

I’ll concede that positional value matters a little bit when we are discussing Jamal Adams. He isn’t as valuable as an elite edge rusher or shutdown corner.

Still when a player has the ability to shut down top receiving targets, destroy the opponent’s run game, and consistently change the game by getting home on a blitz, we are talking about one of the most valuable players in the game regardless of position.

The biggest reason safety is viewed as a low value position is there aren’t many players with Jamal Adams’ skills. If there were more players like Jamal in the NFL, safety would be a premium position.

The time to strike a deal is now.

What makes this the ideal time to work out a long-term deal with Adams? The Jets will never have more leverage in negotiations than they do now. A little bit of that leverage slips away with each day that passes without a new deal.

Every player’s situation is different in the NFL, making apples to apples comparisons of contracts difficult. With that said, a second contract for an elite safety will likely come with guarantees in excess of $30 million. It is plausible such a contract could be worth more than $40 million. It could go even higher.

I don’t need to tell you that is a lot of money.

Adams is currently two years away from hitting the open market, though. 2020 is the fourth year of his rookie contract. The Jets also hold a team option on Adams for 2021, one they will almost certainly exercise.

Two years is a long time, and the NFL can be a cruel league. Serious injuries and performance declines drastically change the earning power of players overnight.

Rather than risk things going south at some point over the next two years, would Adams be willing to take a deal at like 90%-95% of his current market value? In exchange for leaving a little bit of money on the table, he might be able to get his big payday and eliminate the risk.

I can’t tell you with certainty that Adams would be willing, but most players in his position work something out with their team. Rare is the genuine superstar who hits the open market and auctions his services to the highest bidder (although plenty of non-superstars do).

The rise of the cap

Nobody can project with 100% accuracy what will happen with the salary cap in the future. The upcoming expiration of the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement adds to the uncertainty.

With that said, the salary cap has been around since 1993. At only one point since then has there been a dip in the cap.

For the last six years the cap has increased at least 6%. We haven’t seen anything in the league’s finances to suggest a decline in its financial fortune and subsequent cap drop.

With this in mind I think we can reasonably project the cap to continue increasing. Along with an increasing salary cap, salaries will rise.

All of this is to say that if the Jets will likely end up paying more if they delay working out a new deal with Adams.

The Herschel Walker Corollary

I will add one caveat to this discussion. Some people have suggested that the Jets shouldn’t trade Adams for any price. I can’t get behind that. Every player has a price. There surely is some combination of assets in the NFL that is more valuable than Adams.

I tend to doubt any team would be willing to pay that price to trade for Jamal, though. We don’t know the exact offers the Jets got at the deadline, but multiple rumors suggested they were in the ballpark of a first round pick, a fourth round pick, and a fringe starter.

Offers like those aren’t even worth considering. It is very unlikely the players obtained from that type of package would even replace the value lost from Adams’ departure.

There is a famous historical parallel in the NFL, however. In 1989 the struggling Dallas Cowboys traded their best player, Herschel Walker, to Minnesota. Numerous players and picks were swapped between the two teams. The Cowboys were ridiculed for giving away one of their few impact players.

In the end among other assets, Dallas received six first or second round Draft picks. They used these picks to select a number of players who helped propel them to three Super Bowl wins in the 1990’s.

This Jets roster needs a major overhaul. No team will ever offer what the Vikings gave up for Walker. But let’s say hypothetically a team made a Larermy Tunsil type offer built around a pair of first round picks and a second rounder. That’s where a deal might make sense.

Those picks on their own might not be worth Adams, but the Jets would be in position to trade down in the Draft. In doing so, the extra picks acquired through a trade down could in effect turn it into a six for one type of deal capable of turbocharging the rebuild.

Like anybody, Adams has his price. It should be very high. The Jets shouldn’t accept lowball offers. If you want a player of his magnitude, he shouldn’t be cheap.

I tend to doubt any team will make this type of offer, which I why I recommend the extension for Jamal.

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Simply put, the Jets need more players like Jamal Adams. Adding star level talent over the next few years is imperative, but before that happens the team should make sure it holds onto the one star it has.

Hat tip to the Pro Football Reference Play Index and Over the Cap for helping me to compile statistical and contract information.