On Friday, the NFL announced that the salary cap hit from COVID-19 was going to be spread across the next four seasons. On Saturday, the Seattle Seahawks announced that they didn’t really care.
Despite the fact that he needs a new deal and that rookie contracts are going to matter a lot, the Seahawks sent a king’s ransom to the New York Jets in return for the best player on the trade market: Safety Jamal Adams.
What this means for the Seahawks is layered. It’s inarguably an overpay, but sometimes teams need All-Pros more than they need money or draft capital. Seattle, with a star quarterback, a competitive roster, an aging head coach, and a front office that tends to waste first-round picks, was perhaps better suited than any other team to make such a move.
But for the Jets, it’s far more clear. Not only did they get an excellent return for a player they were unlikely to extend (or perhaps even see play in 2020), they also have potentially set the franchise up for bigger and better moves to come. And I’m not just talking about Yannick Ngakoue.
Let’s consider the outcomes for the Jets over the next seven months. The first outcome: there is no season (or at least, not enough games to constitute a season). The second is that there is a season, and the Jets are bad; the third is that there is a season, and the Jets are good.
Let’s look at that third outcome quickly. The Jets had some nice momentum to end last season, including a staunch run defense, improvement on the offensive line, and even some impressive play from the linebackers, corners, and even the quarterback—when they were all healthy. Let’s say it all catches fire: Sam Darnold settles into his own and eliminates the bad plays, Denzel Mims is a steal and immediately steps in at WR1, while Chris Herndon and Le’Veon Bell deliver on the hopes the team has long had for them. The defense survives the loss of Adams to hang tight and the Jets win 8 or 9 games, making the playoffs in the process.
This would be nice for the Jets. It would mean that a ton of young players—Mims, Herndon, OT Mekhi Becton, S Ashtyn Davis, LB Blake Cashman, OT Chuma Edoga, EDGE Jabari Zuniga all among them—stepped up into at least contributing roles. But all of that growth would pale in comparison to the big win: Darnold finally delivering.
Darnold has yet to prove he’s a franchise quarterback, and with two seasons under his belt, it’s tough to see him becoming much more than what he is now. His peak plays are certainly delightful, but a season is not made of peak plays, and his regular mental errors and missed easy throws prevent the offense from consistently moving the ball down the field. The Jets could nail every draft pick and free agent signing of this past offseason, but if Darnold doesn’t suddenly mature and level out as a passer, then this team is going nowhere.
So, should the Jets be good, they will be good in spite of trading away their top players for draft picks—obviously, not a trustworthy or oft-used strategy. They will, however, have the necessary draft capital in 2021 to reload their roster with early-drafted talent.
Again, this is very unlikely, and was made all the more unlikely when they traded Adams away. Should there be a season, it is far more likely that the Jets are bad. And if the Jets are bad, on top of all the issues they have on the roster as a whole, they likely see a third consecutive bad season from Darnold. If they endure that, they will almost certainly move on from beleaguered head coach Adam Gase as well as Darnold, making an entire clean sweep of their offense and preparing for the next era with a new offensive designer and a new quarterback.
Not only is this outcome made more likely by the loss of Adams, a good player who would have helped the Jets win games; it seems almost invited from general manager Joe Douglas. Douglas did not put together the roster that featured Adams and has been working since his hire to retool the team to his liking. In returning a stunning two first-rounders for a safety who needs a new contract, Douglas has positioned himself to make the one roster move that he couldn’t make in a typical offseason: acquiring a franchise quarterback.
If Darnold is bad this year (likely) and the Jets are bad this year (likely), they will have an early first-rounder from their own pick, an extra first from Seattle, and two first-rounders in 2022 (theirs and Seattle’s) to deal with. In a hypothetical trade for the top overall pick, the Jets could offer three first-round selections—enough to move up from even the low teens—without missing their first-round selection in subsequent seasons.
In other words, the Jets could turn Jamal Adams into Trevor Lawrence.
Of course, it’s not that easy. But when you look at the transaction like that, this could be franchise-altering for the Jets. With the trade capital that they have already in the war chest, attracting a desirable coaching candidate will be a breeze, as you’re offering any offensive-minded coach the opportunity to tie himself to one of the best quarterback prospects of recent memory. In a perfect world, the front office and the coaching staff are comfortable selecting multiple quarterbacks at the top pick. That’s a luxury this class very well could offer, with Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance all representing mouthwatering talents at the position.
The promise of Lawrence attracts the top-flight coaching candidate; Lawrence’s potentially elite status is more accessible with a top coach tethered to his future. The concerns with both—that a coaching candidate won’t like the roster enough to commit, and that the young quarterback won’t have the necessary coaches to develop—are quelled simultaneously.
The best news is this: even if there is no season this year, the Jets are still in the exact same position. The Jets were bad in 2019 and have no compelling evidence that Darnold is going to be good. They will, unlike most teams, have enough capital to make an aggressive move in the 2021 NFL Draft—and having the ability to make such a move forces the question, regardless of the internal opinion of Darnold. And with no season played in 2020, the NFL Draft order for 2021 will likely be set roughly off of the 2020 order, in which the Jets picked 11th. They’ll still have the ammo and they’ll still be in range, it will just be a question of pulling the plug on Gase (after two seasons) and Darnold after three seasons, not four.
But no matter what happens, the same truth holds: the Jets have franchise QB ammo, and as such, they’ve opened the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes, and the rest of the league is playing catch up. Expect a new head coach and a new quarterback in New York next season as Douglas does the one thing every first-time general manager dreams of doing: smashing the reset button and reconstructing the franchise cornerstones from scratch.