The Pittsburgh Steelers have two safeties from the 2018 NFL Draft class. They just made one of them—the one they didn’t have the chance to draft—the highest-paid safety in NFL history, giving All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick a four-year extension averaging $18.4 million in new money. The one they did draft, meanwhile, is staring at a second year of free agency in 2023.
That would be Terrell Edmunds, who didn’t have his fifth-year option picked up. And he obviously wasn’t given the franchise tag, either. The Cincinnati Bengals, however, did tag their own 2018 safety, Jessie Bates III—and then drafted Daxton Hill in the first round.
For veteran Bengals beat writer Paul Dehner Jr., that was the death knell in the two sides’ long-term relationship, making the organization’s feelings clear. “It’s all but over in Cincinnati for the long term”, he wrote earlier this month for The Athletic.
“Any shot of a long-term deal getting done in July just moved from four percent to less than one percent”, Dehner continued. “The Bengals will not be paying that kind of money. Fitzpatrick’s contract essentially ensures Bates will land in the vicinity of that type of deal if he hits free agency in March. Somebody will pay it. It won’t be the Bengals”.
If they have one 2023 start in line in the rookie Hill, though, they’ll still have to shore up the other position, as Vonn Bell is also slated to return to unrestricted free agency next year. Of course, they could endeavor to re-sign him to remain as their strong safety.
The negotiating window for long-term contract extensions for players who are operating under a tag—which he has yet to sign, mind you—is July 15, and that is a date that is now fast approaching. It does seem incredibly unlikely that Bates and the Bengals work out a deal by then, or at all.
A 63-game starter over four years, Bates has recorded 408 career tackles with 10 interceptions, 35 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and two recovered fumbles. He has one pick six, as well. He had two interceptions during the team’s four-game postseason run last year, along with six passes defensed, Cincinnati’s first and only playoff appearance since Bates was drafted.
We have extensively documented the past year for the former Wake Forest standout. He took it as an insult a year ago that they did not work out a long-term contract extension for him then, and he talked about not wanting to play under the franchise tag—again, mind you, he hasn’t signed yet.
Still, it can be regarded as exceedingly unlikely he doesn’t sign. He is due to make nearly $13 million under the tag this year. The entirety of his rookie contract pocketed him only $6.23 million. He could triple his career earnings by playing out this season, and then cashing in spectacularly in free agency next year, with a team who will actually be willing to commit to him and pay him his market value.