Two NFL teams that have had shaky draft success in recent years completed a whopper of a trade this past weekend that involved a lot of draft picks.
The Seattle Seahawks, who haven’t drafted a Pro Bowler in the first round since John Schneider’s first season as general manager in 2010, shipped away the team’s next two first-round picks — plus a little more — for Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams.
The New York Jets, who have none of their first-round picks prior to 2018 still on the roster, now have some strong draft ammo the next two years.
What does it tell us from a draft perspective about the two teams?
For the Seahawks, it appears to be a sign that they believe Adams is the missing piece they need on defense, and that can’t go overlooked. It also might be an indication that they’re aware of their mixed-bag results atop the draft in recent years, perennially picking in the mid-to-late 20s.
And for the Jets, this trade could have a massive impact on the team’s direction over the coming few seasons. It’s not a stretch to say that dealing Adams might be a canary in a coal mine for head coach Adam Gase, defensive coordinator and quarterback Sam Darnold.
Are Jets loading up to draft Sam Darnold’s replacement?
When the Jets selected Darnold in Round 1 of the 2018 draft, it was a leap of faith to move up three spots, costing the team three second-rounders to do so.
Darnold hasn’t been bad, per se, in his 26 NFL starts, especially given what he has worked with at receiver, offensive line and on the coaching staff. But he also hasn’t put a stamp on his position as the Jets’ cornerstone QB.
That’s why GM Joe Douglas, who took the job a little over a year ago, won’t be married to Darnold as the team’s no-questions-asked quarterback until he shows a step up this season. The Jets still have issues at most of the other offensive positions, and Gase and offensive Dowell Loggains are also in the crosshairs, but Darnold must show improvement.
Douglas became the Jets’ fourth general manager since 2012 mostly for his drafting acumen. He proved his chops as a talent hound with the Ravens, Bears and Eagles, and Douglas was hired to fix New York’s lack of draft success. Football Outsiders rates the Jets as the NFL’s worst team over the past five years in terms of getting the least bang for their draft buck.
Darnold is six months younger than Joe Burrow, this year’s No. 1 overall pick, and has 26 career starts with two different head coaches and coordinators. It’s too soon to stamp him as any kind of bust.
But the way this league works these days, the clock starts sooner for quarterbacks and their window for proving themselves is shorter — especially when a GM who didn’t draft them is now calling the shots.
And by trading their best defensive player, the Jets also seem to be closing the window more on trying to win during Darnold’s rookie-contract years. Don’t overlook that aspect of it; most teams try to load up when their QB takes up such a relatively small slice of the salary cap. The Jets are going the other direction, it appears, also having dealt Leonard Williams last year and not going hog wild in free agency this offseason.
With two first-rounders next year, including one (their own) that could be fairly high, it’s not hard to suggest that the Jets might be players for Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance or another highly rated QB in the 2021 class.
It would be a greater risk if the college football season is delayed canceled, and highly rated prospects bail on playing this year, but the Jets have to be sure at QB,
And if not in 2021, then perhaps in 2022. The Jets will have to make a call on Darnold’s fifth-year option next summer, and his third-year performance could give us an idea which direction the Jets might be leaning.
The likelihood of the Jets taking a quarterback in Round 1 next spring also figures to be higher if the Jets move on from Gase this offseason. Replacing him with another offensive-minded coach might increase the chances. Then, in theory, Douglas and his handpicked head coach could go out and select the quarterback they each like the most, assuming Darnold isn’t the apple of either of their eyes.
Interestingly, Douglas has been involved in drafting only four quarterbacks since 2009, all Day 3 picks: Tyrod Taylor (Round 6, 2011, Ravens), Keith Wenning (Round 6, 2014, Ravens), Clayton Thorson (Round 5, 2019, Eagles) and James Morgan (Round 4, 2020, Jets).
Keep an eye on Morgan, whom sources tell us is someone they’re intrigued in as a Kirk Cousins-type developmental project. It would be hard for Morgan to show much this year — barring Darnold getting hurt — to dissuade Douglas from considering a top 2021 QB prospect if they were in a position to get one.
Seattle joins recent wave of teams trading away two firsts
There have now been three trades in the past 11 months involving a player dealt for multiple first-round draft picks. If you include the Khalil Mack trade in 2018, we’re up to four such trades. Prior to that, the last NFL deal that returned multiple firsts for a player was Jay Cutler in 2009.
First-round picks have long been treated as nearly priceless assets in a league that preaches the draft-and-develop method over the quick-fix approach. The recent trend — especially in an era where analytics play a bigger role in major decisions — suggests that teams are more willing to part with high picks in exchange for proven stars.
Between Mack, Laremy Tunsil, Jalen Ramsey and now Adams, that’s four non-quarterbacks dealt for multiple firsts, plus a few extras on the side. In the 13-year span from 1986 (Jim Everett to the Rams) to Cutler, there were only eight NFL trades involving a player for multiple firsts. That’s a seismic shift in recent years.
The Seahawks can be fairly questioned for paying a premium for a safety, which almost certainly lies below pass rusher, left tackle and cornerback on the position-importance pecking order. Adams must have a Tyrann Mathieu or Earl Thomas-like impact on this defense to make it worthwhile.
Seattle likely also looked at its poor return on Round 1 picks and its annual penchant for entertaining trades down. Something about the Seahawks’ analytic studies must be showing them that picking in that range doesn’t return commensurate value.
Over the past five drafts, the Seahawks’ original first-round picks all fell between Nos. 18 and 27. It’s not a stunning group of talent. Of the 40 players selected in that range who have played so far, only four have made a Pro Bowl — with only one (Tre’Davious White) named to an All-Pro team.
Perhaps a few budding stars lurk in that late first-round group but the number of busts on the list appears to far outweigh it.
The Seahawks also are in win-now mode, with Russell Wilson in his prime. He’s 32, has never missed a game and is either the second-, third- or fourth-best quarterback in the NFL, depending on who you ask.
They now boast one of the best secondaries in the league, and some analytics folks will tell you that’s even more important than a quality pass rush, which might be one reason why the Seahawks essentially let Jadeveon Clowney walk and made the move for Adams.
Perhaps the two-firsts trend is here to stay. Chalk it up to desperation, as some did with the Texans and Tunsil, and you can argue that the Mack trade looked better for the Bears a year ago than it does now.
Throw the Rams’ impulse-buyer approach into it, too: Their next first-round pick is slated for 2022, and they haven’t made a Round 1 pick since Jared Goff in 2016. Perhaps this way of doing business will cost them in the long run.
Yes, the Seahawks paid a steep price, and they still need to pay Adams a top-of-the-market contract. But as general managers’ job windows become shorter, and as teams sit back and assess the hit-and-miss rate of first-round picks, the level of risk to make a blockbuster might be lower than it appears on the surface.
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