Bengals use franchise tag on Bates

Cincinnati Bengals free safety Jessie Bates celebrates after intercepting the ball during the 2022 Super Bowl in Inglewood, Calif. Feb. 13, 2022. (AJ Mast/The New York Times)

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Cincinnati Bengals free safety Jessie Bates celebrates after intercepting the ball during the 2022 Super Bowl in Inglewood, Calif. Feb. 13, 2022. (AJ Mast/The New York Times)

Jessie Bates will remain with the Cincinnati Bengals at least one more year.

The Bengals announced they have used the franchise tag to lock down Bates before the chance to do so expires Tuesday. He was set to become a free agent next week, but teams have the ability to franchise tag one player a year and Bates was a likely candidate for that as the parties have not been able to reach a long-term deal.

Bates had said he wanted to stay in Cincinnati, which is not far from his family in Fort Wayne, Ind., and representatives for the Bengals have long expressed interest in keeping him.

“Jessie has been an important part of this organization both on the field and in the locker room,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said in a press release. “I’m excited about the opportunity for Jessie to be with us again this year as we continue to improve our team.”

They now have until July 15 to come to a long-term deal, otherwise Bates will be playing on a tag worth $13.54 million. His rookie contract was worth almost $5 million over four years.

A fifth-year player in 2022, Bates originally was a second-round draft pick of the Bengals in 2018. He has played in 63 career games (all starts) for Cincinnati, and has 406 tackles, 10 interceptions, 35 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Bates in 2021 was a team captain for the Bengals as they won the AFC Championship and advanced to Super Bowl LVI.

“Jessie has been an outstanding player here for four years,” Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn said in the news release. “Over the past year, we’ve tried to extend his contract here in Cincinnati, and while that hasn’t come to pass, we want him here for 2022 to be a part of what we think should be an exciting football season and bright future for our organization.”

In a recent interview with Omar Ruiz on the NFL Network’s NFL Now show, Bates said he prefers not to play on a franchise tag but that was a conversation he would need to have with the team.

“I’ve put a lot of trust in them with this whole process of just trying to stay focused and control what I can,” Bates said in the interview. “We’ll see. Hopefully, I’m not (playing) under a franchise tag. That’s something I feel like needs to be discussed (with) NFLPA a little bit. Some of the top guys got hurt under a franchise tag. It’s tough. You only get one shot at this. You’ve just got to play your cards right, I guess you could say.”

ProFootballFocus.com graded Bates as the best free safety in the league in 2020, but he got off to a slow start this past season before finishing strong, including interceptions in the playoffs – one to prevent a touchdown in the first half of the Super Bowl loss to the Rams.

Bates last year had referenced wanting to model his situation after how Broncos safety Justin Simmons patiently handled his contract negotiations before his organization made him the highest paid player at his position at that time. However, he says he doesn’t need to be the top-paid guy at his position.

Fellow safeties like Jamal Adams and Harrison Smith received extensions from their teams last August, and Bates is projected to be in their company, between $15 and $17.5 million over four or five years. The Bengals appear to have room to get a long-term deal done, sitting with the fourth highest cap space at $49.2 million, according to OverTheCap.com, but need to decide how much they are willing to spend to keep Bates around longer.

“I’m not too worried about the ego part of being the highest-paid safety, but I do know value over cost,” Bates said in the interview with Ruiz. “That is something that not just myself but my agency, my team, that we’re going to continue to evaluate over the next couple weeks.”

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