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Talking through the Eagles’ potential trade for Jamal Adams

Can the Eagles really pull this off? I sure would like them to.

New York Jets v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

I want the Eagles to get Jamal Adams

It’s a fairly simple idea. Jamal Adams is very good at football, and the Eagles need a player just like him to get on the roster and be very good at football. Perhaps more than all of the other very good players available, they need Adams.

The Eagles need a player like Jamal Adams

Earlier this offseason, the Eagles essentially released Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins had one year with $7.6M left on his deal, and had made it clear that he was not going to play in 2020 without a new contract.

The loss of Jenkins from the defense is being treated as the loss of a good player — it is much more than that. Jenkins was the glue that kept the back seven together. Jenkins had at least 150 snaps at four different alignments last year per PFF. In Week 3 against the Lions, he played mainly his prototypical box safety role; the next week, against the Packers, he took the majority of his snaps at slot corner; then, against the Jets, he spent more time aligned at free safety than anywhere else; and in Week 6 against the Vikings, he took 19 total snaps aligned on the line of scrimmage as an outside linebacker.

Whatever the offense was that the Eagles faced, Jenkins was the solution. He didn’t miss a single defensive snap in back-to-back seasons on a secondary that couldn’t stop getting hurt, got everybody lined up correctly, and kept a beleaguered unit afloat.

He also started to get older, and it showed. Jenkins wasn’t as effective in coverage in the last two years as he had been in when he first came to Philadelphia, spending more time playing his box alignment, which gave him tight ends and short zones, than his deep half or slot corner responsibilities, which require more athletic ability. Jenkins remained an impactful defender because of his play recognition and zone instincts, but there’s no doubt that he is on the wrong side of 30.

So the vacant spot left on the Eagles’ secondary is one of versatility, intelligence, and leadership — but hopefully, with increased youth and athleticism. To this end, the Eagles have moved Jalen Mills to the inside to potentially take on some of Jenkins’ old coverage responsibilities. This is a half-court heave of a move that says more about Jim Schwartz’s enduring love for Jalen Mills more than anything else. They brought in Broncos S Will Parks, another corner transfer who helped fill in the slot for the Broncos last year following injuries to their starters. They drafted Clemson S K’Von Wallace, who I like a fair bit as a safety/corner hybrid as well, but was only selected with fourth-round capital, and must fight his way into a subpackage role during a limited offseason.

However, there are two key points on each of these options. Firstly, none is truly suited to play true box snaps. Wallace is the heaviest at 206 pounds, and played the most box snaps in recent years during his time at Clemson. But Wallace is shorter and lacks length, and is at his best knifing downhill with velocity to shoot gaps instead of taking on contact and holding his ground.

Secondly, none of them are confirmed good at this position. Mills hasn’t played it, Parks has been a backup, and Wallace is a rookie. As of right now, the Eagles don’t have a Jenkins replacement. They have a handful of guys they’re gonna ask to play as a “box safety,” but none of them can really do what Jenkins did.

Jamal Adams can.

Like Jenkins, Adams took a healthy amount of snaps at every alignment imaginable: 97 on the defensive line, 400 in the box, 131 at slot corner, and 297 at free safety. Like Jenkins, Adams is a bigger body (6’1, 215 pounds) suited for playing in the second level and winning one-on-one against blockers. Like Jenkins, Adams’ leadership is renowned in his locker room and on the field. Unlike Jenkins, Adams is coming off of an All-Pro season and is just 25 years old.

Adams, a wicked competitor, is interested in playing for competitive teams — teams with a Super Bowl shot this year. As was the case with Jenkins in Philly, he’s looking for a new landing spot because the Jets won’t engage with him on a contract extension — but Adams has given the Jets a list of teams he would like to be traded to, and would potentially play for without an extension.

The Eagles are reportedly on that list.

Adams later added the Buccaneers to that list, but currently, all teams still represent a pipe dream for Adams, as the Jets have not yet given his agent permission to solicit trade offers. The Jets and GM Joe Douglas are still playing this one close to the vest, and looking for big return on Adams.

And that’s the problem.

The Eagles can’t pay a player like Jamal Adams

Adams wants to be the highest-paid safety in the NFL; that’s well-known at this stage. The current top dog on the safety market is Bears’ free safety Eddie Jackson, who makes an average of $14.6M per year on his four-year extension.

The Eagles do not have $14.6M lying around for the next couple years. Famously an aggressive cap team that can escape any straitjacket with contract magician Howie Roseman at the helm, the Eagles may dug a hole too deep for the next couple years. Projected COVID-19 related revenue issues with the NFL’s 2020 season could cut the 2021 salary cap by “$70 to $80 million,” according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Now, that deficit wouldn’t be one fell swoop that the league drops on the franchises and says “IDK, you figure it out.” The owners and players association would meet and negotiate terms that would help each franchise field a competitive team, while veteran players would still get signed in free agency, and practice-squad players would be protected.

But there will be some impact on the 2021 cap, and on the current untouched projections for 2021, the Eagles are already $50M over the cap ceiling. The situation actually isn’t that dire when you look at cutting some of the Eagles’ older receivers (Alshon Jeffery, Marquise Goodwin, DeSean Jackson), extending/restructuring some of their franchise cornerstones (Fletcher Cox, Carson Wentz, and Zach Ertz), and rolling over some of their 2020 cap space (currently at $24.7M). These moves can solve the Eagles’ $50M problem in 2021, but when that problem gets worse following the response to limited revenue in 2020, the Eagles will be low on options.

Technically, Adams’ figure in 2021 could sneak in pretty low, as his fifth-year option currently counts for $9.8M. But the Eagles’ currently have the second-lowest amount of cap room in 2022 and 2023, and the lowest in 2024. With the necessary shuffling of the deck that will be done to survive 2021, and the subsequent, smaller hits the league will take on the cap in following years, the Eagles are not in a position to add another player to extend at a high value.

But maybe the Eagles can pay a player like Jamal Adams

Things look bleak right now. The Eagles desperately need a player of Adams’ caliber and role, but do not have any room to give him the extension he’s demanding and rightfully deserves. We haven’t even begun discussing what would a trade package that successfully pries Adams from the Jets’ clutches looks like.

You can, however, solve this two-birded problem with one stone. You can both get the Jets’ attention with a shiny offer, and create some space to extend Adams, by sending in trade a high-quality player you were planning on extending on the future season’s cap.

The players who have been identified for this function are the Eagles’ tight ends: Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. Often the subject of hypothetical trade interest since the Goedert selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, Ertz has the sixth-highest APY among tight end contracts and the third-highest figure in total guarantees. He has produced like a top tight end, of course — but his expertise is in volume and consistency. He doesn’t break many tackles, catch deep passes, or shine as an elite blocker.

Goedert, alternatively, looks more the part on film, with elite stretches of in-line blocking and quality run after catch on screens, while still bringing the intermediate route-running and spectacular catches that characterize Ertz’s game. Ertz is more dependable than Goedert is, but also has a stranglehold on Goedert’s volume as a receiver. The question of how good Goedert would be, without Ertz on the field, is a warranted one.

The Eagles have used 12 personnel more heavily than any other team in the league over the last two years, and seem ahead of a league-wide curve in that regard. But if that heavy TE usage was related more to the Eagles’ wide receiver issues than their love of 8-yard sit routes, there will be a lot of wasted talent in that tight end room.

Ertz’s contract will expire after the 2021 season, which is when Goedert’s rookie deal is up. It is unlikely that the Eagles would have resigned both players following that 2021 season, so perhaps they had always earmarked enough space on the future cap for one tight end, and trading the second away will provide no real cap relief. But with two starting-caliber tight ends on the roster, including one that Joe Douglas drafted here in Philadelphia, trade conversations with the Jets could include one of the Eagles’ surplus talents there.

But it probably still doesn’t work

The fear of the 2021 (and 2022 and 2023 and 2024) cap ceilings being affected by COVID-19 and limited league revenue is too stark to ignore. The Eagles, perhaps more so than any other team, should be thinking about slimming their future books down. Spending capital on Adams, knowing you have to pay Adams, in a time when it’s going to be hard to pay anybody, is bad business.

But I still want Jamal Adams on this team

Really badly. So, if it happens, I will ignore the Eagles’ looming, crushing debt and enjoy a seamless transition between two of the best safeties currently playing in the league.