CINCINNATI -- Jessie Bates called it a “blessing” to be back with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Although he missed all of the team’s offseason workout program in the spring and the first month of training camp, Bates said Wednesday he still felt like a part of things and looked forward to building off the relationships developed last year during the Bengals’ run to the Super Bowl.
Bates, who signed his $12.9 million franchise tender Tuesday, held out of team activities because of injury concerns while not on a long-term contract, but he remained in contact with his teammates and kept up with practice film thanks to the access he had on his team-issued iPad. He always keeps the iPad in the offseason and it especially came in handy this time while he was away.
Now he can focus on getting ready with his teammates with the expectation he will be prepared for a full workload Week 1 against Pittsburgh.
“It’s been great, just to see the looks on peoples faces as you walk into the building, some people are surprised, even the cafeteria lady, Miss Marie, walks in and gives me a big hug,” Bates said. “It’s just stuff like that that you kind of appreciate when you walk into a building, the type of locker room we have here, so I never questioned being looked at differently. It’s a blessing to be back. I’m just happy to be here.”
Vonn Bell, always among the first to arrive at the team’s facility, said Bates was the first player he saw come in after him Tuesday, and he yelled over, ‘Hey, what’s up 30,’ then gave him a big bear hug.
“That’s my brother, so it’s good to have the band back together again,” Bell said.
Bengals coaches and players said they expected Bates would show up at some point, but he admitted there was some consideration as to whether he should play this year. The closeness of the locker room, his love of the game and the family he has built within the organization all factored into his decision.
Bates had been thinking he was “next” for a deal since Sam Hubbard received a contract extension last year before the start of training camp. It never worked out for him, though ProFootballFocus.com rated him the best free safety in the league in 2020. Bates said it’s not for him to say why a long-term agreement couldn’t be reached with the Bengals, who drafted him in the second round in 2018.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for me to continue to present what I’m about, who I am, to this franchise and other teams as well,” Bates said. “Like I said, I’m looking at this opportunity to prove that I’m one of the best safeties in this league. I’m not sure why I’m not paid yet. But this is a great opportunity to create some wealth for my family. It’s not a bad number at all, this franchise tag number isn’t bad. So, I’m not gonna be naïve to that. So I’m blessed. I’m happy to be here.”
Although the Bengals didn’t reward him with the offer he was looking for, his teammates and coaches clearly value the leadership and energy he brings to the field and locker room. Quarterback Joe Burrow said it was like a “jolt” having Bates back Tuesday.
The fifth-year free safety said he decided this was the right time to show up, heading into the final week of the preseason, so he would still have time to get to know the new guys, build up chemistry and make sure he is ready for the opener Sept. 11 against Pittsburgh.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor doesn’t anticipate that being an issue.
“He’s got three years invested in this system,” Taylor said. “He’s a quick learner. I know he has been in great shape. We’ve got plenty of time to get him back in the mix and anticipate him playing the lion share of what we need him to do.”
Bates said he thinks he can “go out there right now and play.”
While away, he had been working out with various trainers in Florida, such as Yo Murphy in Tampa Bay and more recently with Lawrence Barnett in Fort Myers, and at Traction Athletic Performance with Daronte Powers in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Bates was limited Wednesday to individual drills and conditioning with the expectation he wouldn’t “ramp up” to full activity until next week.
“I know what it takes to be in shape, but yeah, there’s definitely a different type of conditioning that you have to have to be in football shape, and that’s why I chose to come back with a couple of weeks before Week 1,” Bates said.
Asked if he thinks there could still be a future for him in Cincinnati, Bates said he has always looked at every season as a contract year so he still views 2022 as an opportunity to prove himself to the organization, as well as other teams.
Last year he got off to a slow start and later attributed it to letting things off the field distract him. Now he said he understands how to handle the business side of things because last year was his first time going through contract negotiations. He said he understood why the Bengals drafted safeties Dax Hill and Tycen Anderson – with both him and Bell at the end of their contracts this year – because it was the same cycle he was apart of when he took George Iloka’s spot as a rookie in 2018.
Yoga and meditation were things that helped him through the stress of trying to get a deal done last year, and he will lean on those practices more this year. For now, he’s just looking forward to forgetting the business side and just enjoying the game.
“I love the game,” Bates said. “I love being around it. It’s just an exciting moment just to be in meetings and being able to watch film and bounce ideas off other people. I’m a football player and I’m excited to be here. I’m going to put my best foot forward for this team and for myself as well.”
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