The Cincinnati Bengals proved last season that they have a title-contending team, something that they haven’t been able to say, literally, for several decades, while it actually being true, at least. One thing they’ve long had, and still, have, however, is a substantial amount of salary cap room.
The defending AFC champions are sitting at close to about $50 million under the cap prior to the start of the new league year. While they will have predictable expenses like everybody else, they have plenty of room to work with, and more motivation than ever to use it.
One of their first tasks, according to reports, will be to place the franchise tag on fifth-year safety Jessie Bates III, who has been one of the team’s most important defenders over the course of the past four years. It’s a move I would imagine he’s not too keen on, but it is frequently a prelude to a long-term deal.
Tyler Dragon of USA Today reported yesterday that the Bengals are “likely” to franchise the safety. But he also said that it’s a step they are taking “as they continue to try to negotiate a long-term extension”, which would seem to imply that talks are already taking place. The franchise tag value for a safety in 2022 is $13,544,000, which is more than twice Bates’ career earnings through four seasons under his rookie contract as a 2018 second-round draft choice.
One would hope so, of course, considering it is already nearly the second week of March and the start of the new league year is fast approaching. For the record, Tuesday, March 8, is the deadline for teams to tag players, so if a team doesn’t have a deal done by then for a player they know they want to keep either way, it is simply a prudent business decision.
Bates said just weeks ago that he was hoping he’s “not under a franchise tag”, and expressed general issues with the franchise tag in general, adding that it’s “something that needs to be discussed as NFLPA a little bit” and that “some of the top guys got hurt under a franchise tag”.
Still, comments from the team, namely head coach Zac Taylor and director of player personnel Duke Tobin, have struck positive tones about the safety’s future with the club, indicating their intentions of keeping him around in says that imply more than a one-year pact.
Bates is only 25 years old, and has 63 starts to his name. During that time, he has recorded more than 400 tackles with 10 interceptions and 35 passes defensed. While his 2021 regular season was not his best, he intercepted two passes and had four more passes defensed during their postseason run.
I think it would be nothing short of surprising if the Bengals don’t sign Bates to a long-term contract, but if they apply the franchise tag, it will give the two parties several more months to work out a deal before the negotiating deadline expires in July.