Although the 2021 season was not the best year of his career, fifth-year veteran safety Jessie Bates III has been one of the best homegrown players that the Cincinnati Bengals have developed for a while. Though he has yet to make a Pro Bowl, he has been a consistent presence at free safety.
And he’s hoping that the team does right by him, at least from his perspective, this offseason, after feeling he was overlooked in extension talks a year ago. Bates was open about the fact that he believed that he earned the right to negotiate a contract extension in 2021 heading into the final year of his rookie contract, and even acknowledged he was playing “a little pissed off” during the year because of it.
“Hopefully I’m not under a franchise tag”, he recently told NFL Now, as transcribed by Adam Maya. “That’s something that needs to be discussed as NFLPA a little bit. Some of the top guys got hurt under a franchise tag. It’s tough; you only get one shot at this. You just got to play your cards right, I guess you could say”.
Many players are not big fans of the franchise tag, which is (roughly explained) a one-year contract offer whose value is calculated based on the top five salaries at each position in a given year. For one thing, it does not provide long-term stability. Notably, former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell chose not to play at all in 2018 because he did not want to play under a franchise tag for a second straight year.
Bates, who will only be turning 25 years old in a couple days, has started 63 games during his four-year career, accumulating 408 tackles with 10 interceptions and 35 passes defensed. The 2021 season was his least impactful, with just one interception and four passes defensed with 88 tackles. But he added 11 tackles and two interceptions during the Bengals’ postseason run, plus four more passes defensed.
“I’m not too worried about the ego part of being the highest-paid safety, but I do know value over cost”, he said about pending contract talks. “That is something that not just myself but my agency, my team, that we’re going to continue to evaluate over the next couple weeks”.
Shortly after the Super Bowl, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor was asked about Bates and their plans for him moving forward. “I think everyone knows we want Jessie to be a part of this”, he told reporters. “We’ll just continue to work through those discussions”.
I certainly would be surprised if the Bengals do not re-sign Bates on a long-term contract, though I also thought they would retain Carl Lawson last offseason (instead, they signed Trey Hendrickson in free agency, which admittedly worked out well).
Cincinnati is in the process of building a competent secondary, with most of the pieces in place. They have Vonn Bell at the other safety spot, with Mike Hilton in the slot, and Chidobe Awuzie covering one boundary. The other starting cornerback spot is somewhat in flux, though Trae Waynes is technically under contract even though he’s barely played for the past two years.