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Blockbuster Jamal Adams trade marks significant shift in Seahawks’ secondary philosophy

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Miami Dolphins v New York Jets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

One of the hallmarks of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era is that the Seattle Seahawks’ secondary has been almost exclusively homegrown.

The original Legion of Boom featured three original draft picks (Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas) and an undrafted free agent who starred in the CFL (Brandon Browner). Add in the nickel spot and you have another draft pick in Walter Thurmond III. Browner gave way to Byron Maxwell, yet another Seahawks Day 3 draft gem.

Those days are not officially over, but recent moves suggest that they are willing to adjust given the original formula has lost its luster.

Saturday’s massive trade for New York Jets safety Jamal Adams is the single biggest move this front office has ever made in terms of overall draft capital. Two first-round picks and a third-round pick are gone (although they do get a 2022 fourth-rounder in return). Seattle has made splash moves and has parted ways with first and second-round picks before, but nothing like this.

Adams is obviously the new strong safety in town and he’ll be alongside Quandre Diggs, who was acquired via trade last year in a midseason deal with the Detroit Lions. Just between Adams and Diggs, Seattle has used four draft picks on getting proven talent at both safety spots. Diggs was clearly a steal but the Lions also just don’t like having good players for very long. Adams is the steep cost that we hope pays off at the end.

These moves would not be necessary if the likes of Tedric Thompson and Lano Hill had actually panned out. Thompson had more than two seasons of starting time to establish himself as a viable NFL starter and I think we know how that transpired. Hill has rarely been in the starting lineup and when pressed into action has been a damning liability. Perhaps it’s fitting that the Seahawks’ 2019 season began with an awful mistimed jump from Thompson that led to a touchdown, and ended with Hill failing to stop Jimmy Graham on a must-hold third down.

John Schneider was vocal in his displeasure with Seattle’s secondary performance in 2019, and perhaps we should’ve seen this Adams trade coming given they picked no corners or safeties in the 2020 NFL Draft and Quinton Dunbar was their only major addition this offseason prior to Saturday.

This isn’t to say Seattle is abandoning its roots entirely. Shaquill Griffin is still the starting corner through this year, while Tre Flowers is the presumptive other starting outside corner thanks to Dunbar’s placement on the Commissioner’s exempt list. Ugo Amadi could play at nickel, so that’s three draft picks taking the other key spots in the secondary. The fact that they traded for Dunbar in the first place with the intention of having him start on the outside does not exactly instill a lot of confidence in Flowers (at least to me).

Developing draft picks or acquiring players with minimal to no NFL experience — e.g. Marcus Burley, Justin Coleman — has given way to more willingness to land established talents whose skills fit Carroll’s system.

Why yes, Bradley McDougald did eventually become Seattle’s starter but he also played in less than 70% of the team’s defensive snaps in 2017. The Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas injuries heavily increased his usage after he only played 45 defensive snaps prior to November. Seattle never signed him to start (at least not right away), which is where I draw the line between him compared to Diggs and Adams.

Prior to these safety trades, the previous biggest “outsider” acquisition was Cary Williams, which... yeah. Deshawn Shead went from replacing Kam Chancellor for a day at safety to permanently replacing Williams. He might be the single worst free agent addition that Schneider has ever made.

The Legion of Boom ended abruptly and rather tragically. A torn achilles, a damaged neck, and a broken leg (all at the same stadium!) disbanded this iconic trio without anything resembling a proper sendoff. Replacing Messrs Chancellor, Thomas, and Sherman has neither been easy nor particularly successful. Getting lightning in a bottle twice over is simply not going to happen and I think the front office knows it.

Seattle is not rebuilding from the ground up to become a Super Bowl contender. They are reshaping a perennial playoff team to be legitimate favorites to at least make the Super Bowl. You may dislike how much the Seahawks gave up to get Adams, but if time is of the essence and the team is in “win now” mode, then they need proven elite talent right now. With all due respect to Griffin, Flowers, Amadi, etc., Adams is not just the most accomplished player in the secondary, he’s the most accomplished defensive player other than Bobby Wagner.

We’re seeing a different approach to shaping the secondary into something formidable again, and it’s about as far away as it can get from what’s been traditionally done. Only time will tell if the risk is worth the reward.