Now that SS Jamal Adams, through no fault of his own, is done for the Seahawks season, local and national media and fans have pounced on his acquisition from the New York Jets in July 2020 as the most lopsided transaction since the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
Because, well, it’s mostly true. The Seahawks are the Napoleonic France of the NFL.
They gave up their 2021 and 2022 first-round picks, plus a solid player in SS Bradley McDougald, to acquire a box safety who is good, not great. Then this summer, they doubled down.
Adams won a four-year, $70 million contract extension, making him the game’s highest paid player at the position, giving rise to the question of whether the mistake regarding Adams was not letting him play out his original contract, then bidding on him in free agency.
The controversy is not about another injury — Adams will undergo surgery Thursday in Dallas to repair a shoulder labrum torn in Sunday’s win over San Francisco, the same shoulder he injured a year ago — but the treasure expended for a player the Seahawks aren’t sure how to use.
Coach Pete Carroll Wednesday called it “a terrific trade,” which makes him a party of one in that endorsement (well, two, if GM John Schneider isn’t forced to ingest truth serum). Most everyone else disagrees in some measure, helping make Adams the most polarizing sports figure in town.
In terms of the return for Adams, the trade is Harvinesque. But at least Percy Harvin later owned up to a mental-health problem that led to his early jettisoning (also to the Jets). The Seahawks have no problems with Adams’ mentals and want to keep him, but their 4-8 record currently makes the first-round pick in April the sixth overall, one of the highest in club history.
The presumption of continued success, and a subsequent low first-round spot, is the sort of hubris that helps end regimes.
The trade is the gift that keeps on taking.
Carroll made the point Wednesday that getting Adams last year was immediate help from a veteran where Seattle needed it, as opposed to a lesser contribution from a rookie first-round pick. Given the Seahawks’ results from the first round of multiple drafts, that makes perverse sense, although roster decisions can’t be driven by persistent failure.
The Seahawks finished 12-4 and Adams set an NFL record for defensive backs with 9.5 sacks. The trade strategy seemed to work in year one, especially for Adams; he parlayed the freakish development into a massive contract extension.
But this year, his season is over with no sacks and two QB hits, because the Seahawks deliberately abandoned his pass-rush skills and dropped him into coverage more frequently. Carroll said it was because defenses were on to his blitz success.
“(In 2020) we rushed him from all different angles,” he said. “He was all over the place. We found that wasn’t the right thing to do — just wasting him by running him into an offensive line. It wasn’t the right thing.”
Given the Seahawks’ lousy pass rush a year ago, using Adams there certainly looked like the right thing.
But the D-line reinforcements in the off-season such as Kerry Hyder Jr., and the healthy returns of Al Woods, Benson Mayowa, Carlos Dunlap and Darrell Taylor, made plausible the idea that they might get away with sliding Adams into coverages instead of rushes, which would help a shaky secondary. Particularly after the $4 million whiff on free-agent signee CB Ahkello Witherspoon, traded before the season, following the decision not to pay market rates to retain CB Shaquill Griffin.
But not only was the rush again lousy — 19 sacks so far, tied with Detroit for next to last in the NFL — the secondary was solidified only by the blossoming of rookie fourth-round pick CB Tre Brown. He was injured early, and now is also done for the season; there was that small window of calm.
However, Carroll insisted that the vulnerability of the secondary was no factor in pulling Adams away from the line of scrimmage.
“It wasn’t because of that,” he said. “We’re just adapting to what’s going on. We would like to get sacks too, so if we could have gotten that done, then we would have. Schematically, (Adams) is such a target that people paid attention, wherever he was. The year before, it didn’t happen like that all of the time. The statement hadn’t been made (yet) that the guy made a historic run at sacks. That went through the off-season, all of the publicity, and the hype. Opponents don’t want to get beat in the same fashion, so they schemed to do a better job of it.
“We took what we could, and that had nothing to do with the other side that you’re talking about.”
Whether you believe Carroll, the outcome seems to have been a cockeyed way to shuffle a defense on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. It would be easier to believe the motive was to move Adams out of harm’s way.
He was, after all, a 215-pound strong safety playing in yellow-iron traffic. It should be noted that the careers of the two greatest box safeties in franchise history, Kam Chancellor and Kenny Easley, ended relatively early. Hall of Famer Easley played seven seasons and was done at 28; possible Hall of Famer Chancellor played eight seasons and was done at 29. Adams just turned 26, and he has missed games to injury in each of his first two seasons,
Perhaps a way to chill some of this controversy in the near term is already in hand: Adams’ replacement, Ryan Neal. He might be the roster’s best unheralded player.
A 6-3, 200-pound undrafted free agent four years ago out of Southern Illinois, Neal came in after Adams’ second-quarter injury and was part of the second-half shutout of the 49ers, a memorable entry into the rivalry’s lore. He’s played this season in the six-DB defensive alignment that has been effective, and in 2020, started four games for the injured Adams among 13 he played.
“They are a little bit different of a style athletically,” Carroll said, ” but all throughout the time that they’ve been together, Ryan has been patterning himself to play the position in the same fashion, whether it’s been in pressuring, covering, or whatever. It won’t change us at all in what we are trying to do.
“We’re very fortunate that Ryan has been playing all year long, has been a come-through guy, a play-maker, and a big contributor.”
Neal is a fairly rare roster commodity: A four-year veteran with starting experience.
“Way more confident this time around, stepping into it,” he said Wednesday. “It’s not a shock to me. It may be a shock to everybody else, but it’s not a shock to me. I’m just here to come in and do my job. That’s what last year
He spoke with Adams Monday.
“He was heartbroken,” Neal said. “Anybody would be, and I’m heartbroken for him. We work so hard on something, and it gets taken away on a routine play. The fact that it’s the shoulder that he got worked on, it breaks my heart even more. He was like, ‘Dude, it’s the same problem I had last year.’”
More than anything, that’s the issue that hovers over the long-term outcome of the trade for Adams. The notion next season of Adams once again thrusting a twice-repaired shoulder into the legs of a Derrick Henry or an Aaron Jones is hard to imagine.