The Cincinnati Bengals are preparing to enter a crucial offseason following Sunday's heartbreaking loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI. General manager Duke Tobin will now shift his focus to a plethora of to-do list items that appear on his offseason agenda. The Bengals are currently set to possess $48.7 million in salary cap flexibility, via Spotrac. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, and Los Angeles Chargers are currently slated to possess more cap space than the Bengals are, and none of these teams qualified for the playoffs in 2021, let alone the Super Bowl. One can argue the Bengals are as well set up for future success as any other team in the NFL. Before Tobin turns his attention to addressing the Bengals' underperforming offensive line in free agency, Cincinnati's chief decision-maker would be wise to address the contract of superstar safety Jessie Bates III. Bates is scheduled to reach free agency in March and the Bengals must retain his services if they hope to build upon and continue their newfound defensive success. Bates is instantly due for a sizable pay raise, and discussions surrounding an appropriate extension may be long-winded and difficult. Bates and his representation will likely want to match or surpass the contract signed by Seattle Seahawks safety Jamal Adams in August of 2021. Adams signed a four-year extension that carries maximum earnings of $72 million, with a $20 million signing bonus and $38 million in guarantees in a deal that made Adams the highest-paid safety of all time. Adams earns an average annual salary of $17.5 million, and Bates will surely demand something similar. In Bates’ case, all signs point to a four-year extension worth $70 million, with an average yearly salary of $17.5 million, with a $22 million signing bonus and $40 million in guarantees representing a fair metaphorical deal for all parties involved. A second-round selection out of Wake Forest in the 2018 NFL Draft, Bates has thus far experienced an excellent four-year career while totaling 395 tackles, 35 pass breakups, and 10 interceptions. Bates powered Cincinnati's defense forward throughout the postseason by accounting for two interceptions. His first playoff takeaway occurred on the first play of the game against Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round on a pass intended for Julio Jones. It served as a crucial play that had a direct impact on Cincinnati's positive outcome. Bates' second interception proved that he's a big-time playmaker that shows up when it matters most, as Bates picked off quarterback Matthew Stafford in Sunday's Super Bowl. Stafford attempted to make an off-script play as he heaved the ball into the end zone, and Bates made him pay by making an excellent leaping interception that showcased excellent body control and smooth hands. A Bates pass deflection in the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs was batted into the air and intercepted by a waiting and willing teammate. Bates made several other notable plays throughout Cincinnati's Cinderella run, and after what some described as a down regular season, Bates has now recaptured the leverage in contract talks. Improving a horrid offensive line will capture much of the debate in Cincinnati this offseason, but they mustn't neglect the opportunity to retain their superstar safety.
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