While the Cincinnati Bengals have consistently spoken about veteran safety Jessie Bates III in the long term, their actions have seemingly sung a different tune. They failed to reach a contract extension with him a year ago, which surprised many, and frustrated Bates.
This offseason hasn’t looked any different, and has included their placing the franchise tag on him, which he has previously talked about wanting to avoid. Since then, they’ve drafted two safeties, including Daxton Hill in the first round.
When asked what kind of message those moves were sending their veteran safeties (which also includes Vonn Bell, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season), head coach Zac Taylor simply said that they are professionals who understand that the front office is just trying to make the team better.
The team will not be better without Bates on the field, though, and one wonders if that is a possibility. Tyler Dragon, who has an awesome name, reported yesterday for USA Today that, via a source, Bates has no intentions of signing—and thus playing under—the franchise tag this year. Pittsburgh Steelers fans are familiar with this situation, of course.
Dragon adds that Bates still wants to re-sign with the Bengals and remain long-term, and even that Cincinnati also still hopes to get him under contract on a long-term extension, but that the contract negotiations are at an impasse.
For those of you who still have the Le’Veon Bell and Bud Dupree tags in your head, you will perhaps remember that players who are tagged have a different negotiating window. Teams may only sign a player who is tagged to a multi-year contract up to July 15. After that point, any contract—which would almost invariably be the franchise tag—must only be for one season.
Bates said back in February that he hoped not to be under the franchise tag. “That’s something that needs to be discussed as NFLPA a little bit. Some of the top guys got hurt under a franchise tag”, he told NFL now at that time—shortly before he was tagged. “It’s tough; you only get one shot at this. You just got to play your cards right, I guess you could say”.
He was also candid during the 2021 process, saying in September that he was “a little pissed off” that the team and his party were not able to work out a long-term extension. A month prior to that, he lamented that he must not have “done enough” to earn a new deal.
And now they have a new first-round safety on the roster. While Bates has not made a Pro Bowl in his first four seasons, he is a quality young safety who would certainly fetch a handsome contract on the open market.
So what happens if the July 15 deadline passes? Will Bates really sit out the season—and to what end?