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Bradley McDougald & the Jamal Adams Saga

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We got a quality safety at what cost?

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

When the Jets made the blockbuster trade of Jamal Adams to the Seattle Seahawks Joe Douglas was wise to have Bradley McDougald included in the deal. McDougald was an undrafted rookie out of Kansas back in 2013; he was first signed by the Kansas City Chiefs. He then moved to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers later that year after only getting nine special teams snaps in K.C.

The trade of Adams was a move that Adams had himself asked for. The situation in New York grew toxic when Adams spoke out in an interview with Manish Mehta of the Daily News reaffirming his desire to be traded. Per the Daily News:

I don’t feel like he’s the right leader for this organization,” Adams said of Gase. “As a leader, what really bothers me is that he doesn’t have a relationship with everybody in the building. He doesn’t address the team. If there’s a problem in the locker room, he lets another coach address the team.

Adams also told Mehta that he felt Joe Douglas flipped-flopped on his promise to make Jamal a “Jet for Life,” saying he pretended like he never said that. Jamal wanted an extension to his contract even though he was only beginning year four of a five year rookie contract. With two years of franchise/transition tags, the Jets still had control of his services for the next 4 years if they chose to do so

Personally I feel this was a lost opportunity for the Jets to keep Adams for his entire career, building a team around him. He was a special player who inspired others to better play all-around. Teams need leaders and Jamal had the type of infectious enthusiasm that made his teammates want to work harder on and off the field. Other teams saw this as well, that is why he was coveted by NFL personnel directors.

In the end the decision to trade Jamal was the correct one. Joe Douglas got a great deal from the Seahawks while at the same time moving Jamal to the west coast and the NFC. I think Jamal was spot with his criticism of Adam Gase but those thoughts should have been kept internal for the betterment of the organization. You can’t just drag your coach over the coals and expect everything to be “peachy keen.”

When the team leader throws his coach under a bus, he must have done so knowing he would be viewed as insurrectionist by the organization. His presence in the locker room usurped the authority of the head coach. Jamal is a dynamic personality as well as a player, his teammates would certainly view him as the real authority on the team and not Adam Gase. This could not be more venomous to the team heading into training camp. A training camp unlike any other since the players have not been together for months.

For this reason either Adams was going to get paid, with Adam Gase leaving (which was never going to happen) or Adams was on his way out of town. Jamal is smart enough to know you can’t install a new offense (or let Dowell Loggains run the offense with Gregg Williams as coach) in a single training camp; that would be a disaster. Adams also must have known with the salary cap dropping $23 million next year that money is going to be tight for all teams even the Jets.

I also understand the fervent desire Adams had to get paid since he has far outplayed his contract. The NFL stands for “not for long” and Adams could have been seriously injured on any play. With good reason Adams wanted to get paid. He was very vocal about that, and I concur with that thought process.

In the end it was not to be for Jamal and the Jets. Joe Douglas made a fantastic deal considering the situation. He made Dom Perignon out of lemons if you look at it only from the trade side of it. The Jets were in a tight situation with camp just three days away; something had to be done. The cynical side of me thinks that it was way too convenient for Joe Douglas for it to work out this way (more on that later).

Please don’t deride me if I wonder what might have been. As a draft connoisseur I often pine for players the Jets never draft. Adams was my choice in 2017 and we got him; he even played above my expectations the first three years. The Jets drafted a superstar and he was proving his worth every game. He had 273 tackles, 28 TFL, 12 sacks, 6 forced fumbles in a 46 career game. Now we just needed to put some pieces around him, developing a team with a dominating attitude. Alas it all fell apart, just another part of Jet lore. The Jets still don’t have a Hall of Fame player who played his entire career as a Jet. I was hoping Adams would be that player.

The Jets now have two 1st round picks, two 3rd round picks and two 5th round picks along with single picks in the 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 7th rounds in 2021. They also have two 1st round picks in 2022 but no 4th round selection. Now that he has the draft capital he so much wanted, it is imperative that Douglas make sound draft selections. His legacy will depend on his decisions the next two years.

The decision to add Bradley McDougald to the trade was a smart one even if it did probably cost him that 2022 4th round pick. I have watched quite a bit of McDougald over the years as he played for both Tampa and Seattle over the past 6 seasons. If you wonder why I saw so much of him it’s because I have Russell Wilson and Mike Evans in my fantasy keeper league (which I have won more than once).

McDougald played only 29 special teams snaps for Tampa in 2013 but worked in 445 defensive snaps in 2015 although he still played 45% of the special teams snaps as well. The Bucs moved him from strong safety to free safety in 2015 which was a good move for his overall career (as it gave him valuable coverage snaps) but his skill set is better suited to playing as a box safety. He has great size (6’ 1 215 lbs) but he is a bit slow (4.74/40) which is why he went undrafted.

The following two seasons he played 1902 of 2122 snaps on the Tampa defense (90%) with decent results playing mostly zone style defense. In those two years he had 1,115 passing snaps but just 68 coverage targets of which he allowed 39 receptions or a 57% completion rate with 4 INTs. He also had 178 tackles but only 5 TFL because he played so far off the line. His time in Tampa was invaluable as he was able to get quality snaps in coverage situations he might not have received with most other teams.

McDougald was signed by the Seattle Seahawks after the 2016 season to be the backup to Earl Thomas as a free safety. In fact he started twice for Thomas when the star safety was out with a hamstring injury early in the season. Later that year he became the starting strong safety when Kam Chancellor was injured (then later went on injured reserve) with a neck injury. McDougald impressed in his 9 starts making 75 tackles so the Seahawks signed him to a 3 year/$13.95 million contract just before the 2018 season. He has one year left on his contract of which the Jets owe $4,068,750.

So what are the Jets getting as a replacement for Jamal Adams? Surprisingly they are getting quite a lot; McDougald is no Jamal Adams but he has developed excellent coverage skills plus his tackling is above average; I like that he is a wrap tackler.

Here McDougald is in man coverage on the tight end on the right side of the line, Jake Butt. McDougald is playing outside leverage as he wants to push the receiver inside where there is traffic along with a host of his friends. He wants to squeeze the big tight end rather than try and run or fight with him in the open field.

As Case Keenum tries to step up in the pocket he thinks he has a window to make the throw but McDougald is able to cut in front to make the interception. This was a big play in the game as the Seahawks are down by a touchdown near the end of the half with Denver inside the 30 with a little over a minute left. These are some of the skills McDougald developed while with the Buccaneers when he was forced into coverage early in his career.

Later in the same game the Seahawks play a sort of trap coverage as McDougald is playing over the tight end Jeff Heuerman in what looks like man to man coverage again. Yet at the snap McDougald drops back at the same time he gives a push to the right side WR (within the 5 yards) to stall his release into his route.

Shaquem Griffin moves over from his linebacker spot to take up coverage responsibilities against tight end Jeff Heuerman. Heuerman stays in to block, so Griffin retreats into zone coverage in the flat. QB Case Keenum never sees McDougald drop into coverage, as he is watching LB Bobby Wagner in coverage against Emmanuel Sanders. Wagner is a future Hall of Fame linebacker but he is not near fleet of foot enough to cover Sanders, so Keenum is drooling with anticipation of a huge play.

The problem is Keenum should realize that the Seahawks run some exotic coverage schemes but they rarely would allow a middle linebacker to chase a speedy WR across the field in coverage without some zone responsibilities. Keenum sees a player out of his peripheral vision in the flat who he thinks is McDougald but it is really Griffin. This looks like an idiotic interception without knowing what Keenum saw. McDougald is in position, he makes a play then also makes a nice return.

This next offensive play is just beautiful in its design. I won’t get into the structure of the play but it has many parts with Cooper Kupp as the #1 intended receiver. This is zone coverage (Seattle style) with McDougald playing the flat to the right side of the defense. The play fake gets Wagner sucked in hook, line and sinker as he moves to his left, allowing the entire middle of the field to be wide open.

The player in the flat, Robert Woods, who McDougald is covering, is crucial to the play. The vertical routes help create a huge void in the middle of the field so Kupp is wide open for a big gain. Actually the sideline was wide open so if McDougald isn’t alert enough to peel back and make the play, Kupp might have scored or at least made another 20 yards.

This next play is only two plays later and shows the reason the flat must be a priority against this offense. McDougald is stationed on the right hash at the 29 yard line over the tight end in coverage. As he drops back he is reading the eyes of Goff, who drops the ball into the flat to a wide open Todd Gurley.

Todd Gurley is a 6’ 1” 230 lbs pile of muscle who can outrun many safeties on the field. The corner to that side in coverage is Justin Coleman who plays this way too soft, doesn’t read the play in a timely fashion, then misses the tackle when he has the chance. This is a 2nd and 16 play in which the Rams realize they have a weapon in Gurley who can break a tackle to make hay. McDougald comes from across the field when he reads the play to knock Gurley out of bounds. Without this play Gurley gets at least another 10 yards or possibly even scores on a check down pass.

This next play is solid coverage but sometimes the offense is better than the defense called. This is a 3rd and 4 play. McDougald is up in coverage on the back who is split wide but he can’t give up a big play by sitting on the route.

You can watch as he gives the receiver room until he commits to the route. This is quality “click & close” ability as he reads the route then closes on it with his hand trying to get inside to beat the hand to the ball and thus break up the pass. The ball gets there a split second before McDougald but he did it without interfering with the receiver. This is good coverage but sometimes you have to tip your hat to the offense.

This next play McDougald is in run support at the line of scrimmage. He has to read the situation, devise a plan, then take the appropriate steps to stop the play. Here he plays off the block of the WR as he reads what is going on. Everyone is tight on a first down play with a lone split receiver to the opposite side; this just screams running play.

The 49ers love to play fake with all the action going to one side then bootlegging back to the opposite side. This is just a traditional run with McDougald playing off his block, staying square to the play, then putting his head down to make the tackle. He kind of gets run over on the play but he still made the tackle, which is all that counts.

Later in the same game the Seahawks are up big closing in on halftime, so the idea is to limit the downfield situations while allowing the 49ers to burn clock. The 49ers in this situation are out of time outs so they probably are looking to just get into field goal territory before the clock runs out.

Here McDougald has the short zone to the right side of the defense. Matt Breida has superior speed so the 49ers are hoping he breaks a tackle then runs them into field goal territory. This is really nice recognition of the play combined with superior wrap tackling. This is something McDougald excelled at in 2018 but regressed slightly in 2019; which is opposite of his coverage skills. In 2018 McDougald missed 8.2% of his tackles but allowed a 76.7 completion percentage on 60 targets. He also allowed 5 total TDs to receivers.

Conversely in 2019 McDougald missed 14.6% of his tackles although he had just 8 fewer tackles that year. His coverage skills though were much better as he allowed only a 54.4 completion percentage on 57 targets for about 200 less yards than the year before. He also allowed zero TDs into his coverage in 2019.

This next play McDougald is in single coverage against the tight end Dallas Goedert. McDougald must read the situation quickly without giving up his depth. Tight ends many times stay in to pass block on 2nd and 8 plays. McDougald has man coverage responsibilities on Goedert if he is a receiver but reverts to deep safety help if Goedert is a blocker.

What is nice here is that McDougald breaks down into proper tackling position then makes a powerful form tackle. McDougald comes from across the field to make a tackle without allowing a single yard to a big, athletic tight end in space.

Later in the same game McDougald makes a tackle from the deep secondary. He is back playing a single high safety position with 9 players within 3 yards from the line of scrimmage with another man in the deep slot.

This is the last play of the quarter. Seattle is in a run stopping type of gap defense and Jay Ajayi gets a seam into the secondary. McDougald makes a nice form/wrap tackle through traffic. He does a good job avoiding players then finding the runner and making a sure tackle.

A short time later in the same game McDougald is in coverage on Dallas Goedert again but this time McDougald makes a play. This is pure man coverage as the defense blitzes, McDougald plays bump & run coverage.

This could not be played better. McDougald understands the positioning between himself and the passer as it relates to who he is covering.

While PFF has given middling grades to McDougald as a whole, they did give him a huge thumbs up here in an article of best safety tandems in the NFL with Quandre Diggs:

Bradley McDougald has sneakily been one of the best man-coverage safeties in the entire league over the last two seasons. Since 2018, McDougald’s 85.4 man-coverage grade ranks fourth among the 104 safeties who have played at least 100 snaps of man coverage over that span, while his 62.7 passer rating allowed in man coverage ranks fifth among those who were targeted at least 20 times.

The PFF rankings for McDougald are middling, but the tape shows an above average safety who can play in a number of different situations. He can play in almost any scheme and I know Gregg Williams will have confidence in McDougald in any situation he puts him in.

McDougald is not the dynamic, playmaking leader that Jamal Adams is but he is solid.

Epilogue

I really think Joe Douglas should have done a much better job working out the Jamal Adams situation. I think Jamal might have been a bit too impetuous while Joe Douglas did little to secure the best player on his roster.

Make no mistake that is a huge mark against Joe Douglas. He has done nothing to earn confidence in his ability to build a roster. He has one draft class that is yet unproven and his free agent signings brought in zero elite athletes. Douglas’ signing of George Fant was an overpay; a huge overpay even if you look at it as a one year contract. He could have signed Kelvin Beachum to a deal if he wanted some insurance if he missed getting a player he desired in the draft. In fact I believe the signing of Fant kept the Jets from drafting a second offensive tackle in 2020 who could be part of the future.

How do you sign a George Fant for over $9 million a year but you cannot find a way to extend your best player in Jamal Adams who is an All-Pro? I realize a lot of fans didn’t like the way Adams ranted about his contract but these situations happen frequently in the NFL. Sure you got some low 1st round draft picks in exchange, but the chances of finding a leader and an All-Pro with those picks are slim to none. These are the moves that losing franchises do.

Now the entire team looks at Douglas as a typical clueless Jets GM who traded away the team’s best player and their leader. Why are you paying C. J. Mosley $17 million yet you trade away a better player in Jamal Adams? This is how the players will view it. The draft picks acquired in the trade of Adams will not affect the Jets for another two years down the road. Plus the draft next year could be a dicey operation with the college players in a situation where they might not even play. The objective of a GM is to build talent, build a roster and have a team with quality leaders. C. J. Mosley said Adams was a leader to him as well as the rest of the team. The GM’s job is to quell problems (all teams have problems) rather than trading away your best talent. Say what you want about Adams but he was the lone All-Pro on the team. It is hard to justify trading away talent when your team is bereft of playmakers.

I remember years ago when Emmitt Smith wanted more money and held out of training camp. Jerry Jones played hardball and refused to give Emmitt the money. Fans were furious how Smith would put himself before the team, he was greedy. The situation dragged out into the regular season. Dallas lost its first two games. A smiling Jerry Jones was on TV giving Emmitt Smith the contract he desired after the second loss. Jones signed the $4 million bonus check on camera and asked Smith “are you happy?” Smith said “very much,” to which Jones replied “I am too.” The Cowboys won the Super Bowl again that season. If Jerry Jones can do it, anyone can do it. The Dallas fans forgot all about that fury they had for Smith, they delighted when that Super Bowl trophy was driving through Dallas.

Ozzie Newsome was a great GM because he knew talent but he also knew the locker room. Ozzie didn’t trade away Ray Lewis even though there were problems and a huge contract dispute. Ray Lewis was drafted by the Ravens and retired a Raven. Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis were the first two draft picks in Ravens history and they both spent their entire careers in Baltimore and are both in the Hall of Fame. No Jet has ever spent his career as a Jet and made his way to the Hall of Fame; not a single player.

Ray Lewis is as fiery and outspoken as any player ever in the NFL. He was loud but also the unquestioned leader on the Ravens team. He played 17 years and won Super Bowls. He never stopped being Ray Lewis; somehow Ozzie Newsome made it work. That is a GM’s job, to make it work.

This doesn’t make sense; $17 million to a middle linebacker (I know who was signed by Maccagnan) while trading away the best player on the team for future considerations. The Jets picked up another safety who is above average, but many on the defense will feel betrayed by Douglas, who traded their leader. The Jets got some future considerations but if you were a player on the Jets today, how are those future considerations going to help you this year? Every player wants to win so trading the leader of your team seems like taking a huge step backwards. Many of these players won’t even be on the team when some of those draft picks are rookies.

Team building is as much a skill as finding talent in the draft or from free agents for GMs. The ability to find players who complement each other is crucial to team success; GMs who don’t understand this are not GMs for long.

We will see how this all works out but fans seem to be happy about the trade. Fans will blame Jamal Adams for this, but Adams let Joe Douglas know how he felt for a long time; this wasn’t a secret. It was Joe Douglas who sat at home and did nothing all this time. It wasn’t like he was so busy he couldn’t get to it. All he had to do was pick up the phone and call the agent for Adams to let him know what his plans were. The silence was deafening to Adams who must have felt like he was being ignored. I would have felt the same way. If I were Jamal I would have been livid if the GM ignored me, then signed George Fant to a $27,300,000 contract with $13,700,000 guaranteed.

I can understand if Joe Douglas didn’t want to spend the money on Jamal, instead wanting to go in another direction. Which direction that would be I have no idea. The purpose of the draft is to acquire talent; that talent must then be paid commensurate with the level of play. A smart GM will take care of his best players; it’s not like the Jets are exploding with great players. To let this situation fester to the point it boils over a week before training camp is all on Joe Douglas. His inaction, his alone caused this situation. He set the fuse for this situation with his silence. This situation was easily foreseeable yet Joe Douglas did nothing. It was almost like he waited for Jamal to finally say something which would take the pressure off him in a trade. We have no idea when this trade proposal was first worked out; it could have been months ago. The draft picks are nice when the draft rolls around but as of right now they are worth nothing, just a future hope.

Joe Douglas now has a lot of work to do to mend fences with the rest of the team. I can assure you the vast majority of the players are upset about this and don’t trust Douglas. He has built a toxic atmosphere that could pit the players against management. Imagine if you were on this team, how would you feel? How would you view Adam Gase? This is not good.

People are upset to see Adams dancing around because he got traded; I would be dancing too. He now knows he is in a place where he is wanted and appreciated. He played his heart out in New York but management never even talked to him about his situation. People are also upset that he was worrying about his contract during a pandemic. Jamal is not an epidemiologist so there is not a lot he can do about that. He is only going to be playing in the NFL for a short portion of his life so he needs to take care of his business because obviously it won’t take care of itself.

Jamal was a huge building block for the Jets to form a great team into the future. Now the Jets have taken a giant step backwards; there is no question about that. The team is now further away from its goal than it was only a few days ago. Just think about the situation. The Jets gave Seattle Jamal Adams and got back George Fant in return. How is that progress? I don’t know.

That is how I see it.

How do you see it?