December 31st, 2016—Louisville QB Lamar Jackson takes the snap. Running a read option on 2nd-and-short, Jackson fakes out the defense and bolts to the far sideline. For the Heisman winner and eventual NFL MVP, it looks to be an easy first down gain. That is until LSU safety Jamal Adams enters the equation. Showcasing an absurd amount of range, Adams tackles Jackson for a loss despite starting the rep from the opposite hash. Demonstrating rare pursuit and aggression, the play is a microcosm of Adams’ entire game. After all, he’s an elite low-hole player with the energy, confidence, and tackling efficiency to back it up.
Now more than three years removed from that special Citrus Bowl performance, Adams’ career has seemingly seen it all. As a top-10 pick, Adams has been a two-time team captain, two-time All-Pro, and two-time Pro Bowl nominee in just three short seasons. Simply put, he’s found a way to circumvent a typical career path by finding the right angle and using his God-given gifts to his advantage.
Does that mean he’s worth two first-round picks, a quality safety, and a monumental contract extension, though? For most teams, that answer is a firm and confident no. For Seattle, the answer is much, much different.
Although extremely costly, the Seahawks acquiring Adams is a franchise-altering move for the organization. Here’s why.
The first thing that will stick out as a potential negative in the Adams trade (from a Seattle perspective), is giving up such an immense amount for a devalued position. I strongly disagree.
Often looked upon as a luxury position, safety is admittedly one of the least valued positions both in terms of average salary and average draft selection. That line of thinking won’t last for long, however, as evidenced by what game-changers like Minkah Fitzpatrick and Tyrann Mathieu have been able to accomplish from the back-end. As those All-Pros can attest, a star safety can completely change a defense, especially if they are able to move around in a hybrid capacity.
In an ever-changing league that is putting a priority on versatility as much as ever, the safety position—as well as the Swiss-Army knife connotations that come with it—are reaching a new level of importance. Even analytical studies suggest it’s closer in value to premium positions (like edge rusher and corner) than ever. As Pro Football Focus has demonstrated on many occasions, coverage is more valuable than pass rush (despite the common misconception in this regard), which means a player like Adams can have just as big of an impact as a so-called premium position player like Khalil Mack.
Simply put, times are changing and the impact of modern safety is comparable to that of an elite edge defender or lockdown corner, especially in Seattle’s DB dependent scheme. Yes, two first-round picks is an astronomical price for any non-QB, but trading for a safety is much more palpable from a value perspective when factoring in extra context and current league trends.
In their patented Cover-3 system, Seattle has sorely missed Kam Chancellor and the impact he was able to provide. Designed to “buzz” down and serve as an electrifying player in the flat, Chancellor was the true leader and catalyst for the “Legion of Boom” during their prime, despite that unit fielding two other Hall of Fame-caliber players in the secondary.
It’s this high praise that speaks volumes to the type of impact Seattle's low-hang role can fill, one which Adams is more than equipped to handle. Although he’s not the physical presence of a Chancellor, Adams can ultimately provide the unit with a disruptive defender who can occupy the same role, all while providing an untapped level of pass-rush upside that Chancellor never had.
Never logging more than three tackles for loss in a season, Chancellor simply didn’t have the gap-shooting and blitz potential of an Adams, who has logged more than nine in each of his three NFL seasons. It’s this remarkable ability to get after the quarterback, combined with his excellent coverage ability, that makes Adams so unique in this regard. Yes, he can play that typical Cover-3 role, but Seattle can use him in unorthodox ways that transcend their typical scheme too. Now, whether they do this remains to be seen (Seattle has never been a blitz-heavy team), but Adams’ blitz potential does line up perfectly with Seattle’s strengths.
Despite only blitzing on about 25% of snaps in 2019, no team (besides Baltimore) saw a bigger decrease in average yards allowed per play than the Seahawks (6.9 to 5.5), which proves they were dominant in this regard. By adding Adams—a defender who blitzed 90 times and racked 6.5 sacks last season—it’s fair to wonder if Seattle is planning on increasing their blitz usage in 2020 (especially with an abysmal defensive line). No, it’s never been a staple in their system, but with the team going all-in on his talents, Seattle altering their scheme to cater to Adams’ unique skill set is not out of the question.
At the end of the day, l do expect him to operate in Cover-3 buzz on about 80% of snaps, especially given Quandre Diggs' strengths as a single-high free safety, but a slight scheme switch-up isn’t out of the question for Adams and the entire Seahawks defensive unit. After all, the proof is in the pudding, which means that a potential increase in blitz packages can be seen as a huge positive for the organization.
The definition of a star is if he can elevate the players around him. Adams checks that box. After all, as dependable and underrated as Bradley McDougald was, he didn’t compliment Diggs or even Marquise Blair in a way that Adams can.
An incredibly consistent tackler (5% missed tackle rate in 2019), Adams, despite his energetic and seemingly frantic nature, is the definition of dependable and stable from the back-end. Diggs, meanwhile, doesn’t provide that same level of security or efficiency (20% missed tackle rate in 2019), but does demonstrate the type of ball-hawk abilities that Adams doesn’t.
Largely playing as a single-high for Seattle last season, Diggs showed incredible potential as a free safety in just five games with the team in 2019 and now with Adams in town, he’s highly likely to occupy that same role this upcoming season. Allowing Adams to focus on tight ends and coming down to set the edge, Diggs can also focus purely on his range and coverage ability from the back-end, something that he wasn’t able to fully do with a hybrid safety like McDougald as his partner.
Whether or not Seattle also asks Diggs to play at nickel corner—a position he mainly occupied in Detroit—remains to be seen, but given his massive breakout in Seattle, it seems wiser to keep him where he currently is. The emerging Blair—a versatile depth piece—could potentially take that role instead, giving the team the ability to rotate all three and use a ton of creative and multiple looks on the back-end. For a team that played the most base defense out of anyone in the league a season ago, that sort of versatility is a welcome and game-changing sight.
Ultimately, by acquiring Adams, Seattle hasn’t just upgraded at one position, but essentially three, including a nickel position that was exposed at length in 2019. It won’t be recorded on the stat sheet, but that sort of impact can’t be understated from an organizational perspective.
You’re going to hear it from now until his eventual contract extension: Adams has all of the leverage. After trading away an entire mountain worth of picks for his services, some of that statement certainly rings true. Seattle has more leverage than people think, however, and it all comes down to the term they have him controlled for.
Owed roughly $13 million over the next two seasons, the Seahawks are guaranteed to have Adams’ services for the next couple years and that doesn’t even account for potential franchise tags added on to the end of his deal. When all is said and done, Seattle essentially has Adams locked down for four more seasons without even having to negotiate a contract.
Now, Adams could hold out at any point, but it’s not like he can magically leave (without a return) if something doesn’t work out. Although not necessarily putting the ball in Seattle’s court, this means the organization doesn’t have to panic if Adams wants to drastically reset the safety market right away (which he probably will). The big question then comes down to how much larger his average salary will be than Eddie Jackson’s $14.6 million per year. For a position that’s contractual value has yet to catch up to its true positional value, this gives Seattle a huge amount of breathing room and makes any deal in the $16-17 million per year range entirely reasonable.
Even if Seattle really caves and they take the route Houston took with Laremy Tunsil—giving Adams a 20% increase on the current leader at the position—that still works out to a respectable $17.8 million price tag.
Now, how does Seattle get the sort of cap space to make this sort of move logical though? It’s pretty simple.
By trading McDougald for Adams, the Seahawks’ cap number decreased in the short-term, while as far as the future is concerned, a few subtle moves can open up the space needed. Assuming they let RB Chris Carson walk in the offseason, release DT Jarran Reed (frees up $11 million), and potentially move on from aging LB K.J. Wright, that’s already enough space for Seattle to make space for Adams without overly damaging the roster in the process.
Sticker shock will get to certain people, but even by resetting the market, Adams’ contract is a total non-issue.
There are seemingly two trains of thought when it comes down to the Adams trade from a Seahawks perspective.
A: Seattle can’t draft well so those picks they’re giving up aren’t all that valuable (SEA won the trade)
B: Every team that has traded picks for a defender recently hasn’t had success (SEA lost the trade)
Given the history attached to each, both of these statements make sense in a vacuum, but it becomes clear that only one rings true (A) when more layers are added in.
Two defenders in recent memory have been traded similarly to Adams (Khalil Mack and Jalen Ramsey), but there was one key factor that made these moves fail: the teams’ quarterback. By moving to the surrounding roster without acing the signal-caller position first, these teams jumped over the most important step in roster construction and the team suffered as a result. Fortunately for the Seahawks, they don’t have this same issue, which is ultimately why I’m so bullish on Adams and his potential in Seattle.
When looking at impact moves for non-QB stars, the best examples of big trades working out (Frank Clark and Laremy Tunsil) have come when the franchise that acquires them already has an elite QB in place. The Seahawks fit those same criteria perfectly, as with Wilson at the helm, the team is a guaranteed playoff contender even without a quality roster around him.
Adding another star to the defense ultimately increases their ceiling without the disastrously low floor that often comes with big trades, leaving Seattle with the perfect acquisition of a complementary star piece.
As for Seattle’s horrible first-round track record, it simply is what it is. Throughout the John Schneider and Pete Carroll era, the team has whiffed on early selections for nearly a decade, suffering from trying to outsmart other teams with major reaches and puzzling picks. Of course, hitting on picks is crucial to roster construction and a healthy cap situation, but Seattle has always been better later in drafts, often preferring to trade down to accumulate more lower-quality assets in the process.
With a Super Bowl window that won’t last forever, giving up a few first-round selections isn’t the end of the world, especially when you already have a franchise QB in his prime.
From a leadership, energy, and cultural standpoint, the name I put down next to Adams’ name pre-draft? Earl Thomas.
The type of “alpha male” personality that has been missing on defense since the days of Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Michael Bennett, Adams is a seamless fit who should reinvigorate the entire organization with much-needed swagger and attitude. You can’t put a price on the mental and locker room impact a player can provide, and Adams—a two-time captain—offers each in spades.
Aside from a leadership perspective, the Adams trade also signifies a much-needed change in defensive philosophy, particularly when it comes to defensive back development.
Now knowing that they can’t develop unheralded defensive backs like they used too, Carroll finally bit the bullet to acquire a premier piece on the back-end. His Cover-3 scheme relies on strong coverage ability, and drafting unorthodox players late has not worked out in recent years. Ripped to shreds against quality opponents last season, Carroll finally made a significant tweak to his defense, recognizing that his oft-used base defense works extremely well, but only with elite level players.
With division rivals San Francisco and Los Angeles relying on strong zone running, a low-hole defense that consists of Adams, Bobby Wagner, and Wright also tailor extremely well to each offensive system, demonstrating that Seattle truly is thinking about how they match up with specific teams before completing transactions.
Ultimately, if Carroll was able to swallow his pride as far as developing defensive backs is concerned, perhaps he’s willing to adapt in other ways too (ahem, using Wilson properly). Acquiring a star is huge, but admitting mistakes and learning from them is arguably just as a big of a plus. It looks like Seattle may have done both with the acquisition of Adams.
Of course, sporting porous line play and an outdated offensive strategy, the chances are that Seattle probably won’t win the Super Bowl in the next year or two. The Adams trade dramatically improves their chances though, which is why it’s undoubtedly the best move this team has made in years.