Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Only the Jets could turn the Jamal Adams situation into a capital-s “Situation.”
Adams is the team’s only truly great player. He’s in the fourth year of his rookie contract, which means it’s extension time. The Jets have cap space: not a ton, but enough to craft a long-term deal that satisfies both sides. They have a chance to lock down a key building block for the long haul and send a message to their locker room and the league that they’re serious about winning. Or, they can dither about the contract for inexplicable reasons, signal to everyone that they are the same-old incompetent, drama-plagued Jets and possibly run one of the NFL’s brightest young stars out of town.
Three guesses which path the Jets are choosing.
The Jets picked up the fifth-year option for 2021 on Adams’ rookie deal in April, but multiple reports indicate that they are in no hurry to negotiate an extension. That has started the rumor mill churning. Per longtime New York sports columnist Gary Myers, the Cowboys are “seriously in play” for an Adams trade, just as they were at the NFL trade deadline last October.
Adams is not attending the Jets’ virtual voluntary offseason activities. Yes, they are both voluntary and virtual, so Adams’ absence is almost theoretical. At the same time, the Jets have placed themselves in a situation where their lone superstar refuses to even do what the rest of us do during remote meetings: turn off his Zoom camera, mute his microphone and play NBA2K while the boss babbles. With nothing else going on in the sports world right now, Adams trade speculation is just about the only speculation, so the Jets’ inability to perform a very simple task is reaching the widest possible audience. The Jets can inflict more damage on their own reputation without opening up team headquarters than most teams can do on the hottest days of training camp.
The biggest problem here is that there shouldn’t be a problem here. Adams is on the short list of the NFL’s best safeties (Adams, Tyrann Mathieu, Justin Simmons, Derwin James, Anthony Harris, and an old guard of Earl Thomas, Malcolm Jenkins and Harrison Smith, if you want a list). Sam Darnold is the only player on the roster more important to the Jets future than Adams, but Darnold is a slow-cooking prospect, while Adams is an All-Pro. The Jets made some roster upgrades in the offseason, and the AFC East is suddenly winnable now with Tom Brady living the Florida middle-aged lifestyle (splitting his pants while golfing terribly with fellow rich guys), but there is no conceivable path to the playoffs for the Jets that does not involve Adams.
Now in his fourth year in the league, Jamal Adams has emerged as one of the best safeties in the NFL, though the Jets have been reluctant to discuss a contract extension beyond his rookie deal.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
The Jets only have about $15 million in cap space this season, per OverTheCap.com, thanks to ill-advised past contracts for Le’Veon Bell, Trumaine Johnson and others. But they have plenty of long-range cap space and no one else to spend their remaining dough on right now. It doesn’t take much caponomics know-how to structure a contract in the $18 million-per-year range—that’s Landon Collins/Kevin Byard money—that keeps Adams both fiscally satisfied and relatively affordable in future years. If the Jets could get such a deal done tomorrow, Adams logs on to Zoom, returns with a smile to team headquarters when they open, and the Jets start to look like stealth playoff contenders instead of perpetual comic bumblers.
It’s hard to even speculate why the Jets are making the Adams extension complicated. They may fear the financial repercussions of a season with no fans in the stands, though that didn’t scare the Jets or any other team away from hitting the free-agent market in March, when no one was certain that anything would ever happen again. The Jets also spent the last few weeks antiquing at the free-agency flea market, signing Frank Gore for $1.05 million and Joe Flacco for a $1.5 million base salary. Both were bargain-bin selections, but neither player is likely to help the Jets much in 2020 or at all beyond.
There’s clearly more going on between Adams and the Jets than some financial worries. After all, the Jets were on the brink of trading Adams to the Cowboys last October, per reports, and the talks only fell through once the Cowboys balked at the Jets’ asking price. There’s no legitimate football reason for the Jets to trade Adams, then or now: Even if the Cowboys offered multiple first-round picks, it would simply reset the Jets’ rebuilding clock at zero at a point when they should be gearing up for a playoff push.
Perhaps Adams is some sort of bad apple in the clubhouse. If so, he’s done an outstanding job keeping it a secret from the New York media, which is known for sniffing out any whiff of locker room discontent. Gase benched Adams for jumping offsides several times late in the Jets loss to the Browns last September, but Adams acknowledged that he was at fault, and Gase downplayed the incident. Even if Adams has his headache-inducing moments, trading players of Adams’ caliber instead of trying to build a better relationship with them is a great way to avoid the playoffs for a decade.
If the Adams problem is not a financial, football or attitude problem, then there isn’t really an Adams problem at all. Instead, it’s a Jets problem. And it sure sounds like an Adam Gase problem. Gase has a longstanding reputation for not-so-subtly broadcasting his dissatisfaction with anyone but Adam Gase. He had contentious relationships with multiple Dolphins stars, some of which became rather public. He has been negging Bell almost since the day the running back was signed. Fomenting cold wars with his star players is as central to Gase’s playbook as a four-yard pass on 3rd-and-15.
Adam Gase has made it no secret when he is not enamored with one of his players.Adrian Kraus/Associated Press/Associated Press
The Jets were the Jets long before Gase, of course, so he cannot be the only one at fault. Bad organizations stay bad by being penny-wise and dollar-foolish, rebuilding with one hand while signing 36-year-olds with the other and playing Make Your Own Malcontent with superstars by fiddling with their careers and then blaming them for being mad about it. Gase just happens to thrive in the sort of environment that the Jets have spent decades creating.
It doesn’t matter who’s to blame. If the Jets realize they need to pay Adams, there’s hope that they have figured out how to run a football team without pointless layers of ego and intrigue, and they’re finally good enough to make things interesting next season. But if the Jets can’t escape from this finger-trap they’ve created for themselves, it means Gase is living down to his reputation and that the Jets are doomed to keep committing unforced errors until the team implodes and starts over for the umpteenth time in recent history.
Paying Adams should be a no-brainer. But these are the Jets, so the punchline at the end of the column pretty much writes itself.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.