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Bengals Tag Bates In Offseason's First Step

Jessie Bates' Super pick.
Jessie Bates' Super pick.

The Bengals did the expected Monday and made free safety Jessie Bates III their franchise player in the run-up to next week's start of free agency on March 16.

The estimated one-year, $13 million gives Bates the highest 2022 salary on the team, but it's not going to alter the Bengals' free-agent strategy.

Both Bates and the Bengals have repeatedly said they want a long-term contract with each and this deal gives them until July 15 to hammer it out. Indications are the sides are going to keep talking and have met face-to-face as recently as last week's NFL scouting combine.

"Jessie has been an outstanding player here for four years," said Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn in a 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."

At the combine, Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin told the media that securing Bates is "front and center," for the club this offseason.

"He's a guy that developed and that has played well that has a real role on our team in a lot of different areas, particularly in leadership and play-making skill," Tobin said. "He's a guy we want going forward. We want him to be a part of our group, so we'll see what we can do to get that done."

Bates, a second-round pick in head coach Marvin Lewis' last draft of 2018, has emerged as one of current head coach Zac Taylor's captains and cultural touchstones as a locker-room leader and defensive playmaker. The Bengals' representative to the NFL Players Association, Bates, who turned just 25 last week, was a driving force behind the Bengals' massive turnout for last spring's voluntary workouts and last week earned high praise from three of his bosses: Taylor, Tobin and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo.

"I lean on Jessie a lot, easy guy to communicate with," Anarumo said at the combine. "He's really turned himself into a true professional. Certainly a guy we'd love to have back. He's done so many great things for us in the secondary and our whole defense, being a captain. I think the world of him. He knows that. Hopefully, we get him back. Hopefully we don't have to go down the road of worrying about what it's like without him."

After being unable to reach a new contract in training camp, Bates openly talked about how it affected his play following a season Pro Football Focus graded him the best safety in the league.

But he flourished in the postseason, where he played all but one of the 274 snaps:

  • One of his three passes defensed in the Wild Card win over the Raiders at Paul Brown Stadium came in the end zone on the third-to-last-play in the Bengals game-ending stand from their own 9.
  • He intercepted Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill on the first series of the AFC Divisional win in Tennessee.
  • Safety Vonn Bell intercepted Bates' tipped pass in overtime of the AFC title game in Kansas City, leading to the winning drive.
  • Bates made a leaping end-zone interception of Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford late in the first half of Super Bowl LVI.

Bates has always made it clear he wants to be one of the guys that stays from a young nucleus that pundits are bannering as one of the best in the NFL. He said it in the bowels of SoFi Stadium with the Rams' confetti still flying.

"This group is a special group and we know it. It's tough that every year there's a new team," Bates said. "Next year is going to look different. Our standard is our standard. I think we set a standard here in Cincinnati that is going to continue for a long time. Even the guys that (are) not going to be here. That's a standard that they can take to another team or, go be a dad. Whatever it is in life. The standard that we built this year was something special."

Check out the best pictures of Jessie Bates throughout the 2021 Season.