Jessie Bates III wants to stay in Cincinnati, where he has blossomed into being one of the NFL's best safeties. The Bengals would also like to keep Bates in Cincinnati, something that director of player personnel Duke Tobin confirmed this week at the NFL Scouting Combine. Given both parties' interest, it would seem like a foregone conclusion that Bates will pen a long-term deal with the Bengals any day now.
Unfortunately for Bates, the Bengals and their fans, things are seldom that easy when it comes to contracts, especially in a salary cap sport. Fresh off of the franchise's best season in over 30 years, the Bengals are hoping to add a few more pieces to the roster this offseason that will result in Cincinnati's first Super Bowl win. That includes keeping several of their free agents, most notably Bates, who last season played an integral role in the Bengals' success.
The 52nd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Bates has collected 10 interceptions, 35 passes defensed and 408 tackles in 63 regular season games. Bates really showed his worth in the 2021 postseason, as he recorded two interceptions, broke up six passes and made 20 tackles for the reigning AFC champions.
Bates' postseason performance surely drove up his projected market value, which is currently slated at about $72.44 million over five years for an average annual salary of $14.48 million, according to Spotrac. The totality of Bates' market value would make him the NFL's highest-paid safety. Annually, Bates would be among the league's highest-paid safeties but behind Jamal Adams, Harrison Smith, Justin Simmons, Budda Baker and Eddie Jackson.
With free agency coming up, here's a look at the five best possible landing spots for Bates, as well as a prediction for where he will likely play in 2022.
Given their mutual interest, one would assume Bates and the Bengals will stay together, at least for the 2022 season. Expect the Bengals to place the franchise tag on Bates between now and the March 8 deadline, which would give the two sides four additional months to come to terms on a long-term deal. Barring the unforeseen, it's highly unlikely the Bengals will let Bates test the open market two weeks from now.
Bates will probably ask for a deal that is similar to his market value. The Bengals know he's worth the money, but they also have to consider the upcoming contracts of other key players like receivers Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase, quarterback Joe Burrow, and linebacker Logan Wilson. The Bengals also have other free agents to consider re-signing like Larry Ogunjobi and B.J. Hill, both of whom played a big role in Cincinnati having one of the league's toughest run defenses last year.
Signing Bates long term is one of the team's top priorities, but perhaps the only bigger one is constructing a significantly better offensive line. As long as the Bengals can achieve this goal while strengthening several other areas of their team (specifically the cornerback position) as well as saving enough money for future contracts, they should be able to come to terms with Bates before the start of the season.
Baltimore would love nothing more than to strengthen its defense while at the same time weakening a division rival. The Ravens are in the market for a free safety, given that DeShon Elliott is expected to test the open market. Bates would be an immediate spark for a secondary that last season allowed more passing yards than any other unit. And assuming the Ravens are able to avoid another injury-wrecked season, Bates would join a team that would have championship aspirations. The Ravens, after all, are just two years removed from advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs.
While he would be leaving Burrow in Cincinnati, Bates would be joining a team that features a former league MVP in quarterback Lamar Jackson. Bates also knows the lay of the land as it relates to the quarterbacks and receivers he would face in the AFC North, having played against Baker Mayfield for the past four years while facing Burrow in practice each of the past two years.
Philadelphia's pass defense was stingy last season, but the unit has several players slated to hit free agency, including last year's starting free safety, Anthony Harris. Bates would be part of a secondary that would still include cornerback Darius Slay and nickel back Avonte Maddox. Philadelphia also boasts one of the top defensive lines in the NFL, a unit that includes Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, and Josh Sweat. The Eagles also feature an exciting, young quarterback in Jalen Hurts who in his second season helped Philadelphia clinch a playoff berth.
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In San Francisco, Bates would join the team the Bengals nearly faced in Super Bowl LVI. The 49ers have several marquee players on defense, but their secondary faces significant questions as starting defensive backs Jaquiski Tartt, Josh Norman and K'Waun Williams are slated to test the market. The 49ers are still expected to have the versatile Jimmie Ward, who has filled several spots in the 49ers' secondary over the years.
San Francisco is coming off of an NFC Championship appearance, so there's a good chance that Bates would play for another title contending team should be move to the Bay Area. The 49ers will have to settle their quarterback situation, however, if they are going to remain in contention for a Lombardi Trophy.
It's no secret that the Bears are looking to make upgrades at safety. The addition of Bates would give the Bears the flexibility to either part ways with Eddie Jackson or move him to the slot, which would give him more chances to make big plays. Either way, the addition of Bates would be big for a Chicago defense that wants to get back to being one of the NFL's most feared units. While it has several pending free agents, the Bears defense is expected to bring back linebackers Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn, who recorded a whopping 18.5 sacks in 2021. Bates would be a big addition for a team that is looking to make it make to the playoffs following a one-year absence.
Bates is coming back to Cincinnati, whether it is under the franchise tag or with a shiny new contract. With nearly $50 million in projected salary cap space, the Bengals have the means to sign Bates to a long-term deal. The question is whether or not the Bengals see Bates as a core player that they need to keep in the fold for the longterm. My guess is that the Bengals do and are simply trying to work out a deal that works for both parties. Bates will undoubtedly be back in Cincinnati for the 2022 season. Whether or not he will be there beyond that may come down to whether or not the two sides can come to terms on a new deal before the July 15 deadline.