“I think as far as my contract goes, I guess I haven’t done enough yet to be considered one of the top safeties in this league, which is fine,” Bates said on Thursday. “That’s fine with me. I’m going to go to work just like any other day, my first three years being here.”
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported on Tuesday the two sides have reached an impasse in their negotiations on a contract extension. Bates showed in 2020 he can be a defensive cornerstone for a unit that has been significantly overhauled the past two seasons. Now with contract talks at a stalemate, the Bengals are running the risk of harming the relationship with one of the best players on the roster.
The comments came during a brief interview with Bengals radio, in which Bates also said it was going to be the last time he was going to speak on the contract talks because he believes it “can get a little messy as far as thinking about it too much.”
But it’s clear one of the focal points of Cincinnati’s offseason could go unresolved this summer. Bates, a 2018 second-round pick, is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is coming off a strong 2020 season. He tallied three interceptions, 15 pass deflections and forced a fumble. Pro Football Focus ranked Bates as the leagues’ top safety in 2020.
However, that doesn’t seem to be enough to spur the Bengals into locking the 24-year-old down to a long-term deal. Cincinnati could opt to use the franchise tag, which OverTheCap.com projects to be worth $13.6 million in 2022. That number ranks sixth among all safeties under contract for 2022, according to Roster Management System.
It could be a value play for the Bengals that allows them to get another of Bates’ best years at a discount. However, the strategy runs the risk of impacting negotiations for 2023 and beyond. It’s also worth noting that the Bengals gave another member of their 2018 draft class, defensive end Sam Hubbard, a four-year extension that includes $10 million in guaranteed money and is worth up to $40 million.
Hubbard wore a shirt that represented Bates’ charitable foundation when he met with the media for the first time after signing his deal.
“Jessie is a close friend and someone I want to play with for a long time,” Hubbard said on July 28. “(I) thought it was a good shirt to wear.”
Bates doesn’t seem too upset with his own situation. On Thursday, he said he’s excited to be a member of the Bengals.
“I’ll let my agent (David Mulugheta) work out the numbers and stuff like that,” Bates said. “I’m going to be the best teammate, the best leader that I can be for the 2021 Bengals.”
Bengals coach Zac Taylor had nothing but praise for his star safety.
“He's been a total pro,” Taylor said on Thursday. “He's having a great camp. Jessie embodies everything we want the Bengals to be about. When we define a Bengal, Jessie Bates fits that description.”
Given the developments this week, however, those definitions could change. At the very least, it raises big questions about one of the most important players for the franchise’s future.