Jamal Adams got a lot of laughs a few weeks ago when he compared himself to Tom Brady and Aaron Donald, and a few more when he refused to back down from those words. His point, though, was serious - that he's really important to the Jets, and he should be treated that way.
The last two weeks he made that clear on the field.
In fact, it'll be hard to find a better two-game stretch in Adams' three-year NFL career. He had three sacks on Sunday in the Jets' 34-17 win over the Redskins, and for a second straight week was making plays all over the field. He's now had five sacks in the last two weeks, six in the last three, and that season-total of six is a Jets record for a defensive back.
"Obviously the picks are not coming my way," said Adams, who has just one interception on the season, "so I thought I'd do something different."
All jokes aside, all he's done differently the last two weeks is step up his game to a Pro Bowl level, and the timing couldn't have been better for him. Three weeks ago he was furious when the Jets nearly traded him to the Dallas Cowboys at the trading deadline, and furious that they were even willing to listen to offers at all. He lashed out at the Jets and refused to speak to GM Joe Douglas and coach Adam Gase for more than a week.
It looked like their relationship would be impossible to repair.
But Adams calmed down and got back down to business and the Jets even won a couple of games along the way, and now everything feels a lot better. His situation is still complicated, even though CEO Christopher Johnson said last week that he wants Adams to be a Jet "forever" and it's possible he'll be an ex-Jet by the time training camp begins next July.
What he's doing, though, is making the Jets think twice about whatever comes next. Because if he keeps playing like this, how could they possibly trade him away?
It's not that simple, of course. Adams is eligible to ask for a contract extension this offseason, and he almost certainly will. And it won't be a small extension either, not the way safeties are being paid these days. There's already speculation that he's going to ask to become the NFL's highest-paid safety - which means something like a six-year, $90 million contract with nearly $50 million guaranteed.
The only way that's worth it to the Jets - especially if they also have the option of shipping him somewhere for a first-round pick, plus - is if he's the kind of impact player he has been the last two weeks. Yes, it was only against the Giants and Redskins, and yes for that money he needs to do it for far more than two games.
But it was a start.
He called it, too. And not just with his infamous proclamation about why he should have been untradeable, when he said "The Rams don't take calls on Aaron Donald. The Patriots don't take calls on Tom Brady. That's where I hold myself, in that regard." One week ago, after he had two sacks and was the most disruptive player on the field in a win over the Giants in a performance that got him named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week, he said "This is nothing. I can tap into a whole another level, man."
Was this the other level?
"I'm asking you, what do you think?" he said. "It was good, man. I just want to continue to get better, keep elevating, and make those around me better."
That's another part of what Adams does so well. The better he plays, the better he makes everyone around them. He's the emotional leader on the team, the biggest supporter of new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and the pulse of their defense. That was not evident earlier this season when the Jets were struggling.
But it's definitely evident now.
And if he can keep it up, no he still won't really be Brady or Donald. It would be hard for any safety to play well enough to enter that stratosphere. But he'll still be a Pro Bowl safety, maybe one of the best safeties of the game, and perhaps a cornerstone the Jets can - and should - build around.
They couldn't have been sure of that when he threw his fit in the days after he was almost traded. But a few more games like this one, and the Jets will have to think seriously about making sure Adams really is a Jet "forever". He's playing like man the Jets simply can't live without.