Maybe it all ends up working out. The Jacksonville Jaguars landed a significant haul from the Los Angeles Rams for CB Jalen Ramsey—a pair of first-round picks and a fourth-round pick. The trade also brought an end to a too-public staredown that was starting to cause significant problems.
But compensation in a trade often obscures the root cause of a deal like this. At some point, a few weeks back, we started hearing about Ramsey wanting to leave the Jaguars because he felt he wasn’t being used correctly in their defense. Those issues snowballed, grew, sped up and wrecked any semblance of normalcy the Jaguars hoped to have in a critical, playoffs-or-bust season. Because that season is still in progress, there will be no time to ask: How did we get from happiness to some form of percolating unhappiness, to a situation that ended up requiring one of the most talented cover corners in football to actually be traded?
We’ve read plenty of hate mail from fans who are aghast at the recent trend of players forcing their way out of work situations they don’t want to be in—thinking that it’s against the egalitarian ideals football was founded on, or that it’s somehow proof that a millennial class of athletes are softening the NFL. But it might be valuable for the football world at large to learn from the Jalen Ramsey deal or the Minkah Fitzpatrick deal or any recent player-for-picks swap that was born out of unhappiness; maybe a coach should be inclined to wonder if everything is alright with their players a little sooner. Or, an organization should be inclined to wonder if they’re providing an enjoyable work environment that is compatible, or better, to some of the other teams around. Or, a team should be able to see the hypocrisy in expecting players to sacrifice their health for a club that isn’t built to be competitive.
This isn’t a direct criticism of the Jaguars. If anything, their professionalism and continued insistence on keeping Ramsey once the cornerback stepped up his offensive was more than a lot of teams in similar situations can claim. It’s simply an acknowledgement that the football season—and football universe at large, really—is so manic that it’s hard to take stock in the emotional condition of your locker room thoroughly.
Sometimes coaches who end up losing a job say how one of their bigger regrets is trying too late to make changes. There are a million little decisions teams make daily that can compound in different ways for different players. Someone might be thrilled and happy. Someone might want to turn in his playbook and shoulder pads, and once they reach that point there is no turning back. It’s important to know which ones are in which category.
Whether or not Ramsey was right to do what he did on an individual level, it doesn’t hurt that somewhere along the line, another team will look at their young star cornerback, or pass rusher, or wide receiver and wonder what life might be like without them. How drastically will their scheme change? How hard will it be to replace them? And they’ll do what they can to squash any lingering doubt before they’re in a situation where the only options become trade, or sit still and get nothing.
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