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The Seahawks’ recent poor use of first-round picks does not justify trading two for Jamal Adams

New York Jets v New England Patriots Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

Let’s set aside for now exactly how good Jamal Adams is. I will say simply I do not know, and if history is any indication, neither does just about anyone else fervidly championing him in this discussion. At best we might have some clue as to how good Jamal Adams was. In a world in which we’re very used to knowing exactly how many wins above average a player in a professional sport is, I dare anyone to devise and stand by a metric that tells us how many wins above average Adams was in 2019.

He’s good, maybe great, and we’ll see. We’ve done this way too many times for any kind of hyperbole or wishcasting to be taken seriously.

Seattle cashed out the kid’s college fund to get this guy. That’s undeniable. Many are justifying this big expenditure with a very faulty line of reasoning. I want to address it here because it’s simply illogical. If one wants to justify this trade, one cannot simply say: The Seahawks waste first-round picks anyway. This is both provably false and dependent on faulty logic. Let me prove the first, because the second point is likely to be controversial, and that’s cool. Better to foment discussion.

Over the past 11 seasons, Seattle has made eight first-round draft picks. They are: Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, James Carpenter, Bruce Irvin, Germain Ifedi, Rashaad Penny, L.J. Collier and Jordyn Brooks. Collier did not have a good rookie season, but he only contributes one season to our overall evaluation. Brooks hasn’t played. And so what we have, mostly, are player seasons by Okung, Thomas, Carpenter, Irvin, etc. And I can tell you without even calculating it, that Seattle’s got above average value out of those picks. But let me calculate it anyway.

The value of a pick is twofold. We’ll ignore the lesser half of that value: the increased likelihood a great player will re-sign with the team that drafted him. The greater value of a draft pick is that player may be incredibly valuable to a team while playing on their rookie contract. As many unions work, the new guys get screwed to buoy the older guys. That’s okay. We’re humans. If we just look at value created in their rookie contracts, Seattle has performed way above average.

Russell Okung:

Real AV: 32

Expected: 27.8

Net: +4.2

Earl Thomas

Real: 48

Expected: 17.8

Net: +30.2

James Carpenter

Real: 11

Expected: 11.3

Net: -0.3

Bruce Irvin

Real: 17

Expected: 13.9

Net: +3.1

Germain Ifedi

Real: 21

Expected: 10.2

Rashaad Penny:

Real: 3

Expected: 5.4

Net: -2.4

LJ Collier

Real: -1

Expected: 2.6

(Mr Stuart, the crafter of the utilized draft value chart, only credits a pick with value exceeding two AV. That’s how Collier is assigned negative value. Stuart’s valuations are based on five year contracts. I adjusted each to account for the fact that Carpenter, Irvin and Ifedi signed a rookie contract lasting four years, and Okung signed a rookie contract lasting six. I get that AV is imperfect and Carpenter, Ifedi, etc. are awful, but there’s no other way to do this, and evaluation of those players as awful is largely an emotional valuation. Both started for most of their rookie contracts. Both started for contenders. Both are still in the league. Ifedi may be barely holding on, but Carpenter is signed through 2022 to a decent contract.)

Much of Seattle’s surplus value is concentrated in the selection of Earl Thomas, but that’s not at all atypical. A good draft class, typically, is a mix of roster depth, one or two starters, and if you’re lucky, one or two stars. But what matters here is that, one, Seattle has not performed worse at drafting in the first round than average, and, two, it has shown the ability to draft starters, above-average contributors, and one future Hall-of-Fame player. Which is, again, anything but wasting value in the first round.

What Seattle has failed to do, which leads to the illogical conclusion that they can’t, is find a quality first-round pick recently. While I defy the idea that there is a true logical fallacy which can be called recency bias—time only moves one way, and so recency matters; we wouldn’t call Japan’s win at Pearl Harbor equal to its loss at Okinawa, for instance. People change, organizations change, and recent data is therefore the most reliable. But, simply put, the Seahawks inability to find a star from a 31st overall pick, two seasons of a 27th overall pick, and one season of a 29th overall pick hardly proves the Seahawks cannot convert a first-round pick into a great player. It’s simply too few opportunities of high-risk and low value to interpret a meaningful trend from.

We also must not forget that first-round value can be converted into picks in later rounds. DK Metcalf was had in part through trading a pick Seattle acquired by trading back in the first round. Giving away picks does not simply remove first-round picks from Seattle’s draft pool, it removes assets which could have had any number of uses. Seattle once traded Max Unger, a first-round pick, and some mid-round selections for Jimmy Graham, and in a roundabout way, Tyler Lockett.

We also do not know if first-round picks in 2021 will actually be less valuable than usual. People are jumping to conclusions based off entirely too little information. They’re also badly underestimating how much of talent evaluation is done without the help of recent tape. Unless anyone missed it, Nick Bosa only played in three games in 2018. That didn’t stop him from going second overall in 2019, nor did it seem to slow him in any appreciable way. Very few people have the talent to play in the NFL. That talent is pretty obvious for the most part: size, speed, coordination, health, etc. That’s why so much emphasis is put on the NFL Combine. Tape, as much as it’s enshrined as the gold standard of talent evaluation, can be exceptionally muddy and hard to properly evaluate. A great performance against an inferior or injured matchup can be totally misleading. The pre-draft process is designed to group together NFL talent and have them compete in a controlled situation. It’s a little bit like comparing GPA to standardized test scores. Neither may be perfect, but the former can be totally bogus. It can be misleadingly wrong.

I’m not such a grinch as to suggest we shouldn’t be excited. Football is fun, and Adams is incredibly fun to watch. But it’s very likely Seattle will not reap value above cost from this trade. We must not be like Homer who is discouraged to find, when looking under the couch for a peanut, instead twenty dollars. Yes, Adams is exciting now, like a disgusting moldering salted legume may be for a cartoonishly unhealthy man, but the NFL is known as the Not For Long league for a reason. Athletic primes for NFL players are often vanishingly short. This is balanced by the constant influx of new talent, often ready to contribute right away. We cannot justify this trade by pretending that Seattle didn’t pay dearly for Adams. Adams must simply be that damn good, or, Seattle must be within its window of contention this season and next, for this trade to make sense. Adams then may have marginal value, much like Frank Clark had for Kansas City in 2019.

To put it in PTI terms, Adams must be a superstar or Seattle must contend now, or else we, the fans, are likely screwed. It’s our balance sheet after all. We don’t stop being fans when coaches and GMs are fired. There is some ugly symmetry lurking, I fear. A win now move got Seattle Earl Thomas, and was part of a profligate and inaccurate use of resources which ended Josh McDaniels’ brief tenure as newest genius in the NFL. Arguably, not one of Seattle’s recent acquisition of superstars has worked. Arguably, we have to go back to Marshawn Lynch to find a trade of this type that Seattle clearly won. But Lynch was not then a superstar and he didn’t cost all that much. In fact, he cost about 6.8 AV. Even one of the two picks Seattle traded for Adams is guaranteed to cost nearly twice as much.