Eagle Mailbag: Jesse Bates? How much does it cost?

After signing James Bradbury this week, the Hawks’ roster is at 90 and they’re gearing up for OTA play later this month.

It’s an exciting time for the Eagles because of all the offseason action, at least on paper, their 2022 roster is much better.

But it can always get better.

This is where our mailbag issue today begins:

If you haven’t paid attention to the situation in Cincinnati, talented young safety Jesse Bates has yet to sign his team tag, and reports suggest he doesn’t plan to use it this season. If the Eagles have a weaker area right now, that might be safe. They’ve tried to fix that this offseason and have shown interest in Marcus Williams and Tyron Mathieu to no avail. Adding a 25-year-old like Betts would be a huge move. Betts has been more of a typical free safety in his career, but he’s probably still a player on the rise, and he’s already very good.

Bates, who has been in the league for four years, has started 63 games with 10 picks, 35 passing drives and 408 tackles. His best season came in 2020, when he was a second-team player on an all-pro team.

In addition to trading Bates, they also have to sign him to a long-term contract like they did with AJ Brown. This contract needs to be figured out before any transaction is made. So let’s break it down in two parts: 1. What do they have to trade to get Bates? 2. What did they have to pay him?

1. The Bengals want a first-round pick. It would be crazy that they don’t start there, especially when they talk to the Hawks, who have two first-round picks in 2023. In 2020, the Jets traded Jamal Adams to the Seahawks for a first-round pick, and in 2019 the Dolphins traded Minka Fitzpatrick to the Steelers for a first-round pick. So even if Betts is inferior to those two, the Bengals will be asking for a first-round pick. But that might be too rich for the Hawks, even with two first-rounders next season. Are the Hawks willing to give up a 2023 second-round pick? Yes, that would be more appealing. They may need to add to the deal with a Day 3 pick or player, though.

2. This offseason, the Ravens signed Williams to a five-year, $70 million contract. His $14 APY ranks seventh among NFL safety players. Justin Reed got a $10.5 million contract this offseason. If the Hawks are to trade Bates, the annual salary of this new contract needs to reach about $14 million. In fact, the Williams trade was a good template for Bates. Of course, the Hawks think Williams is overpaid, so they’d have to prefer Bates to Williams to sign a similar deal, except they’d have to trade him for anything.

We just talked about Bates, so it’s possible the Hawks could add another safety before the 2022 season begins. If not, the likely starters for Week 1 are Anthony Harris and Marcus Epps. The only other security officers on the list are K’Von Wallace, Jared Mayden, Andre Chachere and Reed Blankenship. So there’s an argument that if the Eagles don’t upgrade the starter, they can still use another depth player. Last year, Epps was fine as a third safety, and he actually thinks he’ll be fine as a starter. But what happens when the Eagles want to put another safety in there? When they drafted Wallace in the fourth round a few years ago, I really liked him, but we haven’t seen it on the court yet.

Another possibility here is for the Eagles to play Avonte Maddox safely in some cases. This shouldn’t be the overall solution as he is a very good nickel corner. However, if the Hawks want extra defense on the floor, their better option might be to put Josiah Scott or Kary Vincent Jr. on the floor as a fifth and have Maddox back. This way they can take advantage of his versatility without completely changing his position.

It’s a trick the Eagles have been using in recent years to minimize hits. It’s definitely a no-compromise approach, but it makes sense given that the league-wide cap increases each season (at least in the absence of a global pandemic). Basically, they use these void years and pay out a bonus in the form of a bonus that is prorated over the length of the contract for capping purposes. According to ESPN, it’s actually a five-year contract, four of which will automatically lapse. This year’s signing bonus is $1.243 million because that’s 1/5 of the total. So $1.243 million + his $1.035 million base salary brings us to a $2.278 million salary cap in 2022. Note, however, that this will leave a dead cap figure of $4.972 million to cap in 2023 when Bradbury’s deal runs out and the remaining prorated bonuses accelerate.

Going into this season, Gainwell will be the Hawks’ No. 2 running back, and he’s going to make a difference. The Hawks made no shy about comparing Gainwell to Indianapolis’ Nyheim Hines, and that’s a good comparison for Gainwell, who had 291 rushing yards and 253 receiving yards as a rookie fifth-round pick. He is at his best when he receives the ball from the back and he will be able to do it again in 2022. In fact, I expect his role to get a boost the following year.

Will Miles Sanders be the leader in 2023 if he walks in free agency? This is unlikely. I think he’s a rhythm changer, and so are the Eagles. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with this. We’ve seen how important Hines was to the Colts. They’ll be thrilled if Gainwell is on the Hawks’ team in the next few years.

I don’t think this will happen. The Eagles will continue to have Smith rep as a punt returner during practice, so they keep their options open, but there’s no point in putting him at risk. He’s still one of their top offensive weapons and it’s not worth exposing him like that. Can they use him in certain situations? certainly. But as far as punt returners of all time are concerned, I really doubt the Eagles will.

While I agree with you that the Hawks need an upgrade, we’ll have to see who’s on the roster. Sure, UDFA British Covey was a dynamic returner in college, but he wasn’t sure he’d make the roster, nor was running back Jason Huntley, who has some counter-strength. Depending on their offensive use, Gainwell or Quez Watkins could be the options to kick the ball back. The punt is a bit stiff.

As much as you don’t want to hear it, I think Jalen Regor will be vying for a return kicker and punt this year. Despite his disappointing offensive performance in 2021, it’s easy to overlook his struggles on special teams. As a rookie, he’s shown some real promise in 2020, bringing one of his four returns back to the house. But in 2021, he ranks 24th among NFL eligible players in average punt returns with 7.3 yards and 24th in average punt returns with 21.3 punts. That’s not good enough.

My Best Guess: Fletcher Cox, Javin Hargrave, Josh Sweet, Brandon Graham, Hassan Redick, Kezil White, Nacoby Dean.

This group works in both 4-3 and 3-4 formations, as Sweat will have the ability to play at outside linebacker or defensive end, while Graham is undersized but could be the DE in a 3-4 formation. The top backups on the defensive line will be Jordan Davis and Derrick Barnett, both of whom will play well in 2022.

The most difficult position to figure out is the center linebacker position. I put Dean in that role, but that’s really a prediction. TJ Edwards could well keep his starting spot. Dean is learning the WILL and MIKE positions, but I think his ability as a center linebacker from Georgia could even translate to a rookie. In an extremely important position on the defensive end, that’s a very high bar. But if anyone is ready, it’s Dean. Obviously, there are injury issues to keep an eye on, but if Dean is healthy, I wouldn’t let him off the field. It’s going to be a big blow for Edwards, who earned his spot last year and is a very solid player with huge instincts. Even if Edwards isn’t a starter, he’ll still be involved in certain packages.

Felt like a steak night. Just leave it outside in the heat for a few minutes and it will start to sizzle.

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