On Thursday, the ground shook around the NFL as it was reported that safety Jamal Adams officially asked the New York Jets to trade him.
By any reasonable standard, Adams is one of the league’s top safeties; all other things being equal, any team would want to have him on its roster. So it wasn’t surprising when NFL fans immediately started clamoring for their favorite team to make a move to get him — especially since Adams is still on his rookie contract.
Among Kansas City Chiefs fans, the clamor rose to a fever pitch on Thursday afternoon when ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter tweeted a list of teams Adams would like to join: the Ravens, Cowboys, Texans, Chiefs, Eagles, 49ers and Seahawks.
It’s perfectly reasonable to be excited about the possibility of seeing Adams, Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill holding up the back end of the Chiefs defense. But for Chiefs fans, it might be wise to bring this conversation back to planet Earth.
For starters, it’s not clear Adams will actually be available. Just because Adams wants a trade doesn’t mean the Jets will oblige him; they’ve already picked up his fifth-year option.
It’s also important to remember that Adams’ list of destination teams isn’t a compilation of the only teams where he would be willing to play. Instead, it is (apparently) a list of teams where he would consider playing without first renegotiating his rookie contract.
Unsurprisingly, all of the teams he mentioned are ones that could be Super Bowl contenders during the next couple of seasons. If the Jets do indeed seek a trade for Adams, he could easily end up going to some other team — one that it willing to give him a fat long-term contract now.
But for the moment, let’s put all that aside. Assuming that the Chiefs believe Adams would fit in Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, were willing to give up the draft capital to acquire his rights and could get him to play under his existing contract — which are three big ifs — he is due to be paid $3.6 million in 2020 and $9.9 million in 2021. That’s chump change for a player of Adams’ caliber.
But whether the Chiefs could afford that contract in the coming season is another matter. Lots of people are doing the math on the Chiefs’ “official” NFLPA cap space of $6.2 million — which does not yet include the contracts of any of the team’s drafted rookies — and concluding a trade for Adams is doable.
But when those rookie deals are finalized during the next few weeks, we have calculated they will have an impact of $1.7 million against the salary cap, which would leave barely enough room to accommodate Adams’ contract under the Top 51 contracts rule that is in place until the final roster cutdown. Once the cutdown arrives and all contracts count against the cap, those rookie contracts will have an even larger impact.
So it’s not at all clear that the Chiefs could afford to sign Adams in 2020 — even if he would be willing to play under his current deal.
It’s true that if in the next few hours, the Chiefs were to announce a new contract for Chris Jones that opened up millions in additional cap space — or if the Chiefs were willing to make some kind of a deal that exchanged Jones (or some other player) for Adams — these calculations would be more favorable. But when we’re dealing in the here and now, putting Adams on the roster doesn’t seem financially feasible.
Besides... any cap space the Chiefs could clear with a new contract for Jones is likely intended to be used for just one purpose: to eventually sign quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a long-term contract. That remains the team’s overriding priority in contract negotiations.
And that reflects the reality under which the Chiefs will be operating for the next 10-15 years: that Mahomes is the most important player on the team. With Mahomes on his rookie contract, the Chiefs have managed to win their first Super Bowl in 50 years — and are well-positioned to win one (or two) more before his five-year rookie deal ends.
But when Mahomes’ next contract is on the books, the team will have to focus on the draft, reasonable free-agent deals and coaching to keep the team competitive. A trade to acquire a star player like Adams just doesn’t fit within that strategy.
We aren’t used to it yet, but we need to start adjusting to the new paradigm: the team’s focus should no longer be on spending whatever it takes in cash (or draft capital) to get that one impact player who could put the Chiefs over the hump — because the team is already over the hump. Instead, the Chiefs’ plan should be to continue to develop rosters of young, homegrown players on their rookie contracts — teams that Mahomes can lead to multiple championships.