Reports surfaced after the Cincinnati Bengals and fifth-year safety Jessie Bates III failed to reach an agreement on a long-term contract that he would not report to training camp, having not yet signed his franchise tag tender. Well, training camp is here, and he is not, so it turns out those reports were correct.
Many have also surmised that this pretty much seals the deal with Bates in Cincinnati, that he is a sure bet to sign elsewhere in free agency in 2023, whether he ever reports for this season or not. But you won’t hear anything like that from the Bengals, even right up to owner Mike Brown.
“Jessie’s a good guy. We like him. He’s been an excellent player. He fits with us”, he told reporters just before training camp opened, via Jay Morrison of The Athletic. “We’re two years in trying to extend him. We weren’t able to get there. I regret that we didn’t. But we’ll have another chance at the end of the season. Maybe it’ll happen then”.
One would naturally regret not getting something done that wanted getting done, but Bates not even showing up, and potentially threatening to actually sit out the season, only compounds that regret—although him doing so would put some cap space back in their coffers.
A second-round pick out of Wake Forest in 2018, Bates has started 67 games for the Bengals including the postseason. He has 10 career interceptions during the regular season, as well as 408 tackles, and 35 passes defensed.
Despite being one of the better and more productive young safeties in the NFL, however, he hasn’t really gotten his due, so to speak. He’s never made a Pro Bowl, for example, although he did manage to make the second-team All-Pro list in 2020.
Cincinnati spent its first-round draft pick in 2021 on Dax Hill, who just so happens to know a thing or two about playing safety, another compelling reason that many expect this to be Bates’ last season wearing the stripes, assuming he ever puts on the uniform.
As Pittsburgh Steelers fans ought to know, the last player to opt not to play for an entire season rather than sign his franchise tag tender is Le’Veon Bell, the former running back and current aspiring failed boxer, who skipped the 2018 season in pursuit of free agency. Bell had already played under a franchise tag in 2017, and did not want to do it again.
The situation with Bates, of course, is different. They are both former second-round draft picks, so they did not make first-round-level earnings on their rookie deals, but at least for Bell, he already made over $12 million on his previous tag. Bates has a little over half of that in total career earnings through four seasons.
His franchise tag value is close to $13 million. He would triple his career earnings the second he signs the dotted line, provided that he doesn’t do anything that voids any guarantees. That’s a hefty bit of change to turn down for someone who has earned relatively little for a starting NFL player. I mean, hell, second-tier long snappers make that over four years.