Davante Adams trade a gamble both Packers and Raiders could lose
Most trades have a clear winner and loser, but Thursday's shocking trade of Davante Adams might not work out for either the Packers or Raiders.
In the end, the Green Bay Packers sent shockwaves through the NFL by trading away a franchise cornerstone. They just didn't move the one many expected.
Thursday night, the Packers agreed to send All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders. In return, Green Bay will receive the 22nd and 53rd overall picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. Las Vegas also came to terms on a five-year, $141.25 million contract for Adams, the largest contract ever for a wideout.
For a variety of reasons, the move came as a surprise when ESPN's Adam Schefter and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport broke the story in unison. While Adams made no secret of his discontent over receiving the franchise tag, the subsequent reports of strained negotiations followed a familiar script that often still results in an agreement. And while Adams didn't formally tie his fate to that of Aaron Rodgers, it seemed reasonable to assume one would not return to Green Bay in 2022 without the other given their strong personal and professional relationship. When Rodgers signed his multiyear extension earlier in the week, few questioned that Adams would eventually follow suit.
In actuality, Rodgers made his decision fully aware that Adams would push for a trade, arguably the wildest part of the story. Now, the most prolific quarterback-receiver tandem in Packers history has broken up on the verge of a potential Super Bowl run.
By any measure, the move represents a gigantic gamble for both teams. Though the Raiders gain the services of the NFL's premier wideout, they did so by resetting the market on a lengthy deal for a player about to hit his 30s. Since 2000, only six wide receivers have earned first-team All-Pro honors in their age-30 season or later (not including special-teams nods). Adams has put himself on a Hall of Fame trajectory, but he'll have to beat the odds to maintain the level of performance that earned him such a massive contract. While Las Vegas should still expect quality play from him in 2022 and 2023, a decline in the years that follow seems inevitable.
But for the Packers, the long-term concerns with paying a receiver Adams' age present considerably less downside. Perhaps Adams' play does taper off significantly after a few seasons, but the team has already pushed in all its chips for the next two to three years anyway. Rodgers' contract essentially forces Green Bay into a full teardown by the 2025 season at which point it matters little if Adams can still live up to his salary. Furthermore, any of the realistic replacement options will have an extremely difficult time replicating Adams' production and his chemistry with Rodgers.
As for the draft picks sent in exchange for Adams, they arguably represent an overbid by the Raiders. The recent history of wide-receiver trades involving first-round selections doesn't paint the rosiest picture for Las Vegas. Since 2000, that list includes more misses than hits, with only the Buffalo Bills' 2020 acquisition of Stefon Diggs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' move to land Keyshawn Johnson delivering the intended results. The two qualifying trades featuring Brandin Cooks -- a 2017 trade to the New England Patriots and a 2018 move to the Los Angeles Rams -- look defensible but rank a notch or more below. The rest form a collective cautionary tale. By trading away a first- and second-round pick in the upcoming draft, the Raiders went well beyond the cost previously set by Diggs and DeAndre Hopkins in recent years.
At the same time, the Packers will have a difficult time finding comparable impact with those picks before their Super Bowl window closes. Rodgers famously has struggled to develop on-field rapport with rookie receivers. During his 14 seasons as the starting quarterback, only one rookie wideout or tight end topped 500 receiving yards in Green Bay, and none caught more than three touchdowns in their debut campaigns. So even if general manager Brian Gutekunst lands the next great Packers pass catcher with the Raiders' picks, they might not develop on the necessary timeline for Rodgers to take advantage.
So why would the Packers make such a deal if it affects them so significantly in the only seasons that truly matter? Adams, of course, played a role in that decision. According to multiple reports, the wideout rejected a larger offer from Green Bay in favor of a chance to join the Raiders and college teammate Derek Carr. While Gutekunst and the front office could have rejected Adams' preferences and played a public game of chicken with him, a desire to avoid a reprise of the drama-filled 2021 offseason probably played a role in convincing the team to simply take Las Vegas' offer and move onto other business.
Still, not all hope is lost for the Packers. Though finding a comparable player to Adams soon after moving him seems unlikely, some precedent for that scenario exists. The aforementioned Diggs trade did provide the Bills with an All-Pro receiver. However, the other team involved, the Minnesota Vikings, turned the first-round pick acquired in the deal into Justin Jefferson, a hyper-productive wideout as a rookie who ascended to superstardom in his follow-up campaign. Green Bay currently holds four draft picks within the first two rounds, and the incoming receiver class appears likely to produce multiple out-of-the-box stars.
Of course, no team should expect a rookie to deliver 1,400 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. And even if the incoming draft class includes the next Jefferson, the Packers have no guarantee of identifying him. While Green Bay almost certainly will invest one of their premium picks (and possibly multiple) at the receiver position, the team should look at other avenues as well.
With the first wave of free agency nearly over, most of the top receivers have already found new homes. Still, a few could make sense for the Packers, including one they know well. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, the tall field-stretcher who spent the past four seasons in Green Bay, could return for a more reasonable price than originally anticipated. His rapport with Rodgers works in his favor, and a one-year deal worth around $10 million would benefit both parties.
Even if Valdes-Scantling returns, the Packers will need a more traditional split-end receiver. Most of the top names have either come off the market or never reached it in the first place, with Allen Robinson signing with the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday and Mike Williams agreeing to a long-term deal to remain with the Los Angeles Chargers the previous week.
However, as teams have navigated the new league year, other notable pass catchers have become available. Julio Jones, once the undisputed top wideout in the game, received his walking papers from the Tennesee Titans in a cap-saving move. Jones has missed seven games in each of the past two seasons and turned 33 in February, making him a risky proposition from an availability standpoint. But even as he enters his 12th season, Jones can still tilt the field when healthy. He won't replace Adams at this stage, but he can help compensate for the loss.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, another free agent still unsigned, offers perhaps the most upside. The former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout doesn't turn 26 until late November and has previously produced like a top-shelf pass catcher. However, he hasn't topped 831 yards over the previous three years, and a shoulder injury limited him to just six games last season (though he returned for the Steelers' playoff game). He has also served primarily as a slot receiver since entering the league in 2017. Whether the Packers can overlook the risks and jump into the potentially expensive market for Smith-Schuster remains uncertain.
Meanwhile, the arrival of Robinson in Los Angeles has made veteran receiver Robert Woods expendable. Woods has played the past five seasons in a similar offensive system and served as the go-to target on critical downs prior to Cooper Kupp's emergence as an All-Pro. Woods also doesn't turn 30 until April, suggesting a little more tread on his tires than other options. Last season's torn ACL complicates his immediate future, but it could also reduce the cost to acquire him, assuming the Rams would consider sending the wideout to a potential NFC playoff opponent.
Should the Packers choose to take a more aggressive approach, they could contact the Seattle Seahawks regarding the availability of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. The two have formed one of the better receiver tandems of recent vintage, but Seattle has already committed to a new direction following the trade of Russell Wilson. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Metcalf doesn't turn 25 until December and has already produced like a No. 1 wideout, but he would presumably cost more than other top options. The more diminutive Lockett turns 30 early in the season, but his consistency and efficiency over an extended period suggest he can remain effective for several seasons. The Seahawks haven't discussed trading either, but the relationship between their general manager John Schneider and Green Bay could overcome some obstacles.
Ultimately, the Packers don't have a single lever to pull in order to fill the void left by Adams. Truly elite receivers don't come around often, and they opted to part ways with the one already in Green Bay. Perhaps that decision will prove wise, but that requires the team's decision-makers to hit on a lot of moves they have yet to make.
Regardless of how the Packers respond following Adams' departure, their roster undeniably looks diminished from where it stood just a day earlier. One of the team's central figures has left town in shocking fashion, leaving innumerable questions in his wake. Green Bay bet that it can do better with additional draft picks and cap flexibility than by paying Adams, but that gamble doesn't always work out.
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH