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Initial Thoughts on the Jamal Adams Trade

Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Jets Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Once you reach adulthood it’s rare that a major life decision is 100% good or 100% bad. Most of the significant choices we make have clear pros and cons. We just have to hope that our decisions ultimately leave us in a better place.

The Jamal Adams trade leaves me thinking about two theories of team building I believe in. This trade puts these theories in direct conflict with each other.

I believe that in the NFL a team becomes good by developing and building around elite talent.

Jamal Adams is arguably the best safety in the NFL. If he isn’t number one, he’s close. He is one of the few genuine impact players at his position.

Adams’ departure from the Jets was messy, and his public comments came off poorly over the last few months. It allows the media to develop an easy narrative, but we in the public will only ever know a fraction of what happened behind the scenes. If you look only at the public actions of the last few months, Adams looks like the only villain of this story. The road to this point was likely much longer. We even have indications that part of Adams’ frustration was fueled by losing and alienation with his coach. It’s undeniable the Jets have lost too much in recent seasons. The team also has a head coach who has earned zero benefit of the doubt when it comes to strained player relations.

There were likely other factors behind the scenes that got us to this point. Some are likely Adams’ fault. Others are likely the team’s. When any significant relationship falls apart it’s rare for blame to fall completely on one side.

One of the ways bad teams stay bad in the NFL is failing to retain their top talent. This has happened too frequently with the Jets over the years, and the Adams saga is the latest example.

While I believe everything I wrote above, I also believe it’s true that in the NFL sometimes a team has to take a step back so that it can take two steps forward.

Jamal Adams might be a great player, but the Jets were only 16-32 in his three years with the team. I’m not saying the team’s poor performance was his fault. He did everything he could. There’s just only so much one player can do in this league. The Jets need to add a lot of premium talent to build a winning team. That has to be done through the Draft, and Adams was the only trade asset on the roster who could bring a significant haul.

If you were a regular reader of this website seven years ago, you might remember my displeasure with the Darrelle Revis trade. You were probably mad at me for my opinion. I thought the Jets got poor value at the time when they acquired only a first round pick and a conditional third round pick (that eventually became a fourth rounder when conditions were not met) for the best cornerback in football. I still do.

This is different. Like then, the Jets traded an elite player. This time, however, the Jets got a spectacular package in return.

Even in a world where Jamal Adams and the Jets were happy with each other, it would be difficult to turn down two first round picks, a third rounder, and a possibly viable starting safety.

Owning four first round picks over the next two years (along with an extra third rounder) is the type of thing that can accelerate the Jets’ rebuild. This is an opportunity to infuse the roster with a talented young core.

One of the great conflicts of each NFL Draft is whether a team should trade down in the first round. Trading down adds valuable extra picks later in the Draft but potentially costs you a chance to add one of the truly elite talents from a class. With two first round picks, the Jets could keep one to add that top talent and trade down with the other to stock up on picks in the value rounds on day two. The Jets have also helped to fortify themselves in the doomsday scenario of Sam Darnold failing to develop. If Darnold fails to improve in the next two years, the Jets could find themselves looking for a quarterback in 2022 where an extra first round pick would have critical importance.

There isn’t much of a way you could argue this trade makes the Jets better in 2020, but it provides the tools to build a much better team in the long run. If failing to retain a homegrown talent feels Jetsy, giving up a big name player and taking a short term hit to obtain assets to build for the long term is about as unJetsy as it gets. This deal signifies that for the first time in a while it feels like the Jets have a front office committed to building the right way, thinking long term, not obsessing with winning the back pages, and loading up on Draft picks.

We know there are positives and negatives to this deal. That brings us to the most relevant question.

Will this ultimately be remembered as a good trade or a bad trade?

At this point I’m pretty confident in saying I don’t know. Nobody does.

In 1987 the Rams traded star running back Eric Dickerson to the Colts. They received seven picks in either the first or second round as part of their return.

Two years later the Cowboys traded star running back Herschel Walker to the Vikings. They received six picks in either the first or second round as part of their return.

The Dickerson trade doesn’t have a positive legacy in Rams lore. The Walker trade is remembered fondly as a move that built a dynasty in Dallas.

What was the difference? Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson would tell you the answer is simple.

“The key is not getting draft picks,’’ Johnson said. “The key is picking the right players. There’s been plenty of teams with a bunch of draft picks. The Rams, when they traded Eric Dickerson, made a similar trade to what I had with Herschel. Didn’t do a thing with it. I hate to say this but two of their first-round picks were [former University of Miami players] Bill Hawkins and Cleveland Gary.”

We won’t know for years how these Draft picks will turn out. No matter what anybody says today this unknown will determine how we look back on this deal. If the picks do not pan out, we likely will look back on this as another example of the Jets failing to keep a key player. But if Joe Douglas hits on these picks, it won’t matter if Jamal Adams earns a gold jacket playing in Seattle. We may remember this as the trade that turned a franchise around.