Did the Jamal Adams trade make the New York Jets worse? Analytics and projections say no
On Tuesday, New York Jets head coach Adam Gase said that, even after trading star Jamal Adams over the weekend, the team wasn’t punting on the 2020. Analytics and season simulations say that Gase may not be wrong.
As the best player on the Jets and their only Pro Bowl selection in 2019, Adams was clearly an impact and a transformational player. The All-Pro safety had 75 tackles a season ago but his 6.5 sacks shows a player who was a weapon in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ scheme. And while the Jets got a solid starting safety in Bradley McDougald as well as multiple draft picks, it will be difficult if not impossible to replace the multi-faceted Adams.
All of which has the buzz post-trade centered on the Jets tanking in 2020. Not so says Aaron Schatz, the founder and analytical guru of FootballOutsiders.com who said the Jets projected win total went from 7.4 wins to 7.2 wins with the trade of Adams.
“The first thing to make sure to note is that our projections are naturally very conservative and tend to cluster close to 8-8. So these changes may seem way too small to some readers, but the Adams trade still has an impact,” Schatz told Sports Illustrated’s Jets Country.
“It’s possible that we’re underestimating the importance of the Adams trade because he’s a top player with a fairly rare skill set. But there are a couple of reasons why the Adams trade doesn’t have a huge impact on our projections. First, Adams wasn’t traded for nothing. He was traded for Bradley McDougald, who is probably a league-average starting safety. That’s a lot better than having to replace Adams with some scrub at the position. But the other issue is that defense is just really hard to predict. There’s a lot more year-to-year variation on defense than on offense. We project a range of possibilities for how good a team will be on offense and defense, and that range is wider on defense.
'As a result, the mean projections – the average of how good we think a team can be – are much closer to zero on defense than on offense. The strongest offensive projection (Kansas City) is over twice as strong as the strongest defensive projection (Buffalo). And a change in personnel, even a big change like getting rid of Adams, can’t have too big an impact on the projection because no one change has a particularly strong impact on the projection.”
Football Outsiders is pioneer of football analytics site, looking at the game with advanced statistics and intelligent analysis since 2003. They recently released their Football Outsiders Almanac 2020, which is available in electronic version at FootballOutsiders.com and in print version at Amazon.com. The book contains detailed chapters on all 32 teams with advanced stats from the 2019 season. A portion of the proceeds from every sale of Football Outsiders Almanac 2020 will go to the United Way’s COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund.
The Jets haven’t made the playoffs since 2010. In trading Adams, the common narrative is that the team is set to take a significant step back, that they are tanking for a higher draft pick.
That may not be the case, however, for a significantly improved team. This offseason, general manager Joe Douglas upgraded the team in free agency and the NFL Draft, particularly on the offensive side of the ball and along the line. The Jets, before the Adams trade, should have been an improved team in terms of personnel over the group that had a 7-9 record in 2019.
On a Monday conference call with the media, Douglas defended the move against the narrative that the Jets have already waived the white flag on 2020 and are looking ahead in their rebuild.
“I think when you guys see this team practice and get around this team, you are going to see a team that is very hungry and has a lot of desire to prove that 6-2 finish was not a fluke against a ‘soft schedule.’ You’re going to see a team with a lot of fire and a lot of motivation,” Douglas said on Monday’s call.
“I will disagree that we’re punting on 2020.”
Schatz would tend to agree. One of the nation's foremost analytics gurus, he doesn’t think the loss of Adams significantly impacts the Jets projections for 2020, especially since the Jets got a quality safety in return. It isn't like the Jets suddenly go from a respectable projection to being winless just by trading Adams.
But they do see Adams as helping Seattle, proportionate to the way his trade saw the Jets dip slightly.
“Seattle goes from 8.7 mean wins to 8.9 mean wins in our projections, but that’s enough to move them from eighth to fifth in the league,” Schatz said. “We already had Seattle has our NFC West favorites because of Russell Wilson and our expectation of some regression from the San Francisco 49ers. We would expect that pick the Jets are getting in 2021 to be pretty low in the first round.”