Can Seahawks Afford to Reward Jamal Adams as NFL's Highest-Paid Safety?

After trading multiple first-round picks for Adams, the Seahawks want the playmaking safety to be a building block for their defense for years to come. But with limited cap space at his disposal, general manager John Schneider faces quite the conundrum trying to figure out if he's worth the money he seeks.
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Given all the ongoing drama surrounding Russell Wilson, it's easy to forget that the Seahawks have other major decisions to make in regard to the futures of a number of franchise pillars over the next few months.

Among several core players who needs a new deal, the clock has already started ticking for Seattle to make a decision on what to do with safety Jamal Adams, who will be entering the final year of his rookie contract and desires to become the NFL's highest-paid player at his position. Without a new contract in hand, it's unlikely the three-time All-Pro selection will report for training camp, creating yet another distraction for the organization to deal with in August.

After general manager John Schneider surrendered two first-round picks and a third-round pick to acquire Adams from the Jets last July, re-signing the star safety would seem like a no-brainer for the Seahawks. If the front office wasn't planning on paying him the money he has earned to be a cornerstone for their defense for years to come, then why give up so much to trade for him in the first place?

But an extension isn't necessarily a slam dunk in this instance for several reasons, starting with Adams' expected financial demands and Seattle's lack of cap space.

Currently, Budda Baker of the Cardinals ranks as the league's highest-paid safety, earning $14.75 million per year after signing a four-year, $59 million extension last September. If Adams simply wanted to surpass that mark at $15-16 million per year, the Seahawks would likely oblige and a new contract could be hashed out fairly quickly with few hitches.

Considering his rare brilliance as a pass rusher, the most coveted attribute a defender can have in today's pass-happy NFL, Adams isn't going to be satisfied with a contract similar to the one Baker signed. With most star defensive ends bringing in north of $20 million per year, he will want a piece of that pie, likely pushing for at least $17 million per year, if not more.

Based on his overall production and trophy case, such a price point may be justified. But other factors may lead the Seahawks to proceed with caution before opening up the checkbook.

First, questions about Adams' coverage skills and overall fit in Seattle's scheme persist. While the defender took offense when questioned about his performance in coverage last season, quarterbacks completed 80 percent of their passes and posted a 121.7 passer rating when targeting him. Pro Football Focus ranked him 58th out of 67 qualified safeties with 500-plus snaps in terms of coverage, giving him a mediocre 53.1 grade for the season.

It's obvious Adams doesn't like being framed as a box safety, but per Pro Football Focus, he lined up as a deep safety only 149 times on 803 defensive snaps. The vast majority of those plays were in two-high safety looks alongside Quandre Diggs. In contrast, he logged 445 snaps in the box or along the defensive line, or more than 50 percent of the time. Though he's elite pursuing quarterbacks off the edge, forking over $17 million or more per year for a safety who functions like an extra linebacker may be questionable.

Second, Adams' durability may also be a cause for alarm from Schneider's perspective. He's a highly aggressive talent who plays with a relentless motor flying all over the field hitting ball carriers and mixing it up in the trenches. It's a pleasure to watch when he's fully healthy and clicking on all cylinders. Only 213 pounds, however, his play style has already taken a toll on his body.

Over the past two seasons, Adams has missed six games due to ankle and groin injuries. He also battled through pain in numerous games dealing with broken fingers and multiple shoulder injuries, including playing with a torn labrum during the wild card round. He underwent two offseason surgeries as a result. When considering rewarding him with a record-breaking deal, while his toughness should be applauded, it's worth wondering if he will be able to hold up physically over the long haul.

Keeping all those variables in mind, Schneider has plenty of reasons to feel confident about showing Adams the money this offseason as well, including his rare talents turning up the heat on quarterbacks.

As already touched on with his contract demands, Adams doesn't view himself as a typical NFL safety, in large part due to his pass rushing savvy. In terms of his ability to bring down opposing quarterbacks, he's truly a unicorn compared to the rest of his safety brethren, as he broke Adrian Wilson's single-season sacks record for a defensive back in just 10 games last season. For his career, he already has 21.5 sacks and 37 quarterback hits in just four seasons.

Per Pro Football Focus, Adams registered a quarterback pressure on 34 of his 104 pass rushing snaps in 2020, or close to 33 percent of the time. This was actually a higher rate than he posted for the Jets in 2019 or 2019, when he produced pressures on 25 and 26 percent of his pass rushing snaps respectively. In three straight seasons, he has received at least an 86.9 pass rush grade, proving to be efficient with his extensive blitzing opportunities.

When considering Adams' coverage issues last season, it's worth noting that his first year in Seattle may have been an anomaly more than a guideline for performance in future seasons. During his previous two seasons in New York, he received elite coverage grades from Pro Football Focus while producing 10 passes defensed and holding quarterbacks to passer ratings of 79.1 and 67.3.

Simply being healthy should also bring out the best in Adams, who still put up a stat line of 83 tackles, 9.5 sacks, and 11 tackles for loss while playing with a bad shoulder and cracked fingers for a large portion of the season. Expected to be fully recovered when camp opens, some of the missed opportunities he had in coverage should turn into interceptions and he shouldn't miss near as many tackles.

Ultimately, Adams' overall value cannot be accurately quantified by only looking at his statistics. As immediately evidenced upon his arrival at the start of training camp and consistently showcased on Sundays, the vocal safety plays with unbridled passion for the game and brings an infectious energy to the field that rubs off on his teammates as well as the coaching staff. Though he isn't afraid to talk trash opponents and speak his mind, he leads by example and young players such as Jordyn Brooks benefited immensely from his presence.

Now that the Seahawks have had Adams for a full season, the coaching staff should have a better idea of how to deploy the unique chess piece and maximize his talents. After his return from a groin injury that cost him four games, he gradually became more comfortable in the scheme and played a starring role for a defense that rapidly improved over the final two months.

Only 25 years old, Adams should be entering the prime of his career and though he's already been an All-Pro three times and made multiple Pro Bowl squads, he will be the first to tell you he still has ample room to develop in multiple facets of his game. He has an unrelenting desire to improve each day, which fits the "Always Compete" mantra coach Pete Carroll has built his program around.

What Schneider and the Seahawks have to decide is if Adams' youth, unique skill set, and untapped upside warrant breaking the bank to lock him up for the next four or five years. Is he the type of game-changer at the safety position who can earn a contract normally reserved for premier defensive ends and shutdown cornerbacks? And if so, what does signing him to such a large contract mean for the future of other high-priced veterans such as Bobby Wagner?

If Seattle believes he's that caliber of talent - the trade package used to acquire him certainly suggests the team does - then it shouldn't be a tough decision, especially after what the team gave up for him. If there are any reservations about paying him what he believes he's worth, however, a challenging offseason will be all the more difficult for an organization already dealing with a PR tug of war against its biggest star.