After pursuing a new contract for nearly three years with two different organizations, Jamal Adams finally got the bag when the Seahawks and the star safety agreed to terms on a lucrative four-year, $70 million extension in August. Under the terms of the deal, he will receive $17.5 million annually, making him the highest-paid player at his position in NFL history by a wide margin.
Already a three-time All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection, Adams has been one of the premier safeties in the game since the New York Jets selected him sixth overall out of LSU in the 2017 NFL Draft. A true unicorn at the position, he broke Adrian Wilson's record for sacks by a defensive back in his first year in Seattle, accomplishing the feat in only 12 games for the eventual NFC West champions.
But was Adams worth the price tag the Seahawks ultimately paid? Especially after giving up two first-round picks and a third-round pick to acquire him via trade last July? These questions have created quite the debate investigating his true value and whether or not his record-breaking contract was justified.
NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, who has long been a fan of Adams' game, pointed out one specific reason why he believes Seattle may have overpaid for the safety's services: he simply hasn't had the ball in his hands enough.
"If you're going to be the highest-paid safety," Baldinger paused. "Look, [Jets general manager] Joe Douglas moved on from him promptly in New York because Douglas was around Ed Reed. You've seen all these safeties go in the Hall of Fame over the last couple of years, starting with Reed. But you look at their numbers, you look at some of these guys, they took the ball away. Jamal doesn't do that. Sacks are nice, they're negative plays. But these safeties that are going to the Hall of Fame are intercepting balls, they're scoring touchdowns, they're forcing fumbles."
Comparing the first four seasons of Adams' career to three recent Hall of Fame inductees at the safety position - Reed, Brian Dawkins, and Troy Polamalu - statistics back up Baldinger's viewpoint... to a degree.
In regard to interceptions and pass breakups, the competition has lapped Adams and then some. He only has two career interceptions, which equates to making a pick in three percent of the games he has played in. Dawkins, Reed, and Polamalu all had at least 10 interceptions in their first four seasons, with Reed picking off a ridiculous 22 passes in 58 games to top the group. Adams isn't even in the same zip code.
Pass breakups weren't an official stat until 1999, but Dawkins had 24 of them that year alone. Reed produced 53 passes defensed in his first four seasons, while Polamalu had 34. Adams has 28 of them in four seasons combined, creating further questions about his ability in coverage.
"The one thing about Jamal that I don't understand is - I know he can hit and likes to hit and he's a big safety - but he doesn't even jar the ball loose," Baldinger remarked. "And so if you're not taking the ball away or causing turnovers, it's hard for a lot of these GMs to say 'alright, do I have just a box safety here? Is that what he is? Can he really go match up with Travis Kelce or Darren Waller?' I don't know that you want that matchup.
"It's not really what they do anyways. But if you want to, it'd be nice to have that option, cause that's what Tyrann Mathieu can do. He'll go matchup with these tight ends like nobody and he takes the ball away."
But while Baldinger seems to have a valid argument in the interception department, Adams has found other ways to create turnovers that compare favorably to his Canton predecessors. While amassing 356 combined tackles in 58 games, at least 40 more than the other three players produced in their first four seasons respectively, he has generated seven forced fumbles, tying Dawkins for the most among the group. He also has scored two defensive touchdowns, proving he makes the most of his turnover opportunities.
As Baldinger noted, sacks also matter in this equation even if they aren't turnovers. It's difficult to compare Adams to any other safety before him because, quite frankly, there's never been a playmaker quite like him at the position and his pass rushing prowess makes assessing his value all the more challenging.
Since quarterback hits weren't officially recorded prior to 2006, it's not possible to see where Reed, Polamalu, or Dawkins stacked up in comparison to Adams in that category to assess pass rushing impact. But none of those three legends reached double digit combined sacks in their first four seasons, while Adams nearly did that in 2020 alone and has produced a whopping 21.5 sacks since breaking into the league.
From a historical context, if Adams could replicate his 2020 production in 2021 and approach 10.0 sacks, he would surpass former Patriots great Rodney Harrison for the most career sacks by a defensive back before his 27th birthday.
Looking at expectations for Adams entering his second season in Seattle with a new contract in tow, Baldinger anticipates defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. will continue to play to his greatest strength by blitzing him with high frequency. As one of the key ingredients to the team's pass rush, racking up sacks in bunches will help the safety's cause justifying the deal the team gave him last month.
But in order for Adams to truly live up to his market-setting extension, with the burden of contract negotiations now off his shoulders, Baldinger wants to see him find ways to wreak more havoc in the turnover department as players such as Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor did before him. If he's able to do that and continue ratcheting up pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the Seahawks hefty investment should wind up being a wise one for the organization.
"As much as I like Jamal - maybe this will happen now because the pressure is off of getting the deal - will he just go really play now and be happy? Cause it didn't seem like he was ever happy. This is what safeties do. Great safeties cause turnovers. You don't have to go very far to look at the safeties Seattle had for seven or eight years and how good they were at doing that. And so that to me is the reluctance for why you wouldn't pay a guy that kind of money."
Along with getting ready for to cover the upcoming NFL and college football season for the NFL Network and FOX Sports, Brian Baldinger also has been busy offering his signature offensive line seminars on CoachTube, a digital platform that offers football coaching courses.
He currently has four courses on CoachTube, two of which focus on the offensive line as well as one coaching course on tight end play and another on wide receivers. Check out the four course offerings here.