Jessie Bates is back in the building with the Cincinnati Bengals and has signed his franchise tag, the team announced Tuesday.
The fifth-year free safety had opted not to participate in training camp up to this point after not being able to reach an agreement on a long-term contract. The Bengals used the franchise tag to keep him in Cincinnati at least one more year, but he had not signed the tender, worth $12.9 million, until Tuesday morning.
Bates was the last holdout in the NFL to sign, presumably out of concern for getting injured while not having the comfort of a long-term contract.
After signing Tuesday, he was placed on the exempt/commissioner permission list, giving the Bengals a roster exemption to hold his spot for up to two weeks without having to make another roster move to clear space. He can be activated at any time, but Cincinnati is currently at 80 players, the maximum it can have starting 4 p.m. Tuesday, after placing safety Brandon Wilson on the reserve/physically unable to perform list and waiving former Ball State University quarterback Drew Plitt on Tuesday morning.
The Bengals are wrapping up their final two practices of training camp this week when they host the L.A. Rams for joint practices Wednesday and Thursday. The team is meeting Tuesday but not practicing.
Players and staff had long been indicating a belief it would only be a matter of time before Bates would arrive, and many of them have continued to show their support for Bates as he handled the business side of things.
“Jessie is a big part of this team,” quarterback Joe Burrow said in June during Organized Team Activities. “You can put a price tag on what he does on the field, but I don’t think you can on what he does in the locker room. He’s been a guy who’s kind of built what we’re doing here. He was one of the first. Jessie is exactly the kind of player I think you want to reward for the work that he’s done for the last four years through the ups and the downs. We weren’t very good for three years while he was here and then he’s been through it all. We’re hoping everything works in his favor. I know he’s working really hard right now in the weight room. He’s looking great. He’s going to be ready to go whenever he gets here. Business is business. He’s got to take care of what he’s got to take care of but I know when it’s time to show up, he’ll be ready to go.”
Cornerback Mike Hilton said at the start of camp he couldn’t envision Bates not playing this season because of how much of a competitor he is, and Bates had been posting workout videos on social media showing him in his Bengals helmet getting in some work down in Florida. Bates also attended the team’s preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals and sat in one of the suites.
In Bates’ absence, rookie first-round draft pick Dax Hill has been getting all the first-team reps in practices and he made his first interception Sunday in the second preseason game against the Giants after nearly getting his hands on two in the opener. Hill will be ready to play, but the expectation has been that Bates would be ready to start the season even without a full training camp.
“Jessie is a great player and great leader on our team,” Taylor said at the start of camp. “I know he’s going to be in great shape so whenever he does show up, we’ll be ready for him.”
Now the question is how the Bengals will utilize Hill, Bates and strong safety Vonn Bell together. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has stressed Hill’s versatility as an asset and upon drafting the former Michigan standout, he spoke of the potential for more three-safety sets.
With Hill’s impressive preseason, that seems even more a possibility going forward. Bates’ arrival will allow for Hill to now show that versatility and get reps in other roles.
“That’s really what we started doing early was just playing him at free safety and let him ease into life in the NFL, just doing that in the springtime and early in training camp,” Taylor said last week. “He’s not as comfortable as he’s going to be with more experience but start to expand that role a little bit. That’s been exciting to see him utilize his skill set and learn different ways and different positions. I feel like he is going to be very valuable for us.”
Rams at Bengals, 6 p.m., Ch 12, 22; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7
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