The Cincinnati Bengals went on an improbable run in the 2021 season, reaching the Super Bowl for the first time since 1989. After falling short, the front office must focus on re-tooling in the offseason. Jessie Bates III is one of the notable Bengals hitting the market in free agency, and he should be a high priority.
The safety just played out the final year of his rookie contract, and he’s looking for a new contract. If the Bengals let him walk, he’d command a sizable chunk of money from another team. Instead, it appears the two sides are heading toward the franchise tag.
After Cincinnati secures Bates, it will have plenty more moves to make to be Super Bowl contenders in 2022.
Bengals plan to place franchise tag on Jessie Bates III
The franchise tag has long been a valuable asset for NFL teams during the offseason, as they negotiate a long-term contract with a specific player on their roster. The Cincinnati Bengals don’t want Jessie Bates III to hit the free-agent market this offseason.
According to USA TODAY‘s Tyler Dragon, the Bengals will likely franchise tag the fourth-year safety while negotiating a new contract.
The franchise tag for safeties is in the ballpark of $13 million. While not exactly the contract he was looking for, Bates will still make significantly more money than he made over his first four seasons in the league ($1.2 million annually).
The deadline for teams to use their franchise tag is Mar. 8, so that window is rapidly closing. With not much time to work out a long-term deal, this appears to be the best-case scenario for Cincinnati. The Bengals keep one of their best players and buy themselves time to secure a new contract for Jessie Bates III.
The 25-year-old safety is a valuable part of an improved defense
Jessie Bates III has developed into a solid player since entering the league. The Bengals selected him with the No. 54 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He worked hard at his craft, and now he’s one of the best young safeties in the game.
Bates has recorded 408 tackles, 35 passes defended, 10 interceptions, and two forced fumbles across four seasons in Cincinnati. The Wake Forest product especially thrived in the 2020 season, earning an impressive 90.1 grade from Pro Football Focus.
The free safety took a bit of a step back in 2021. PFF gave him a significantly lower grade after somewhat of a down year (56.2). He suffered a dip in production, making fewer tackles and interceptions. He also allowed 30 receptions on the year, 11 more than in 2020.
Still, Bates wasn’t that bad in the regular season and solidified his worth in the NFL playoffs. The Fort Wayne, Indiana native registered 20 tackles, six passes defended, and two interceptions in four games, including one in Super Bowl 56.
The Bengals improved tremendously on the defensive side of the ball. They went from having the league’s 22nd-ranked unit in 2020 to 17th in 2020. While not a huge jump, Cincinnati proved to be an opportunistic bunch that opponents can no longer push around. Jessie Bates III was a massive part of those efforts.
What’s next for Cincinnati in free agency?
The Bengals seem to have a plan in place for Jessie Bates. Now, owner and general manager Mike Brown must turn his attention to the draft and free agency.
Cincinnati represented the AFC in the Super Bowl, but it still has plenty of needs to address in the offseason. The team has plenty of money to work with, too. The Bengals have $48.7 million in salary-cap space, fourth-most among all NFL teams.
Zac Taylor’s squad went on an impressive run down the stretch, but it wasn’t dominant for the entire season. It has some work to do if it wants to be a major player in the AFC again. The Bengals should focus on bolstering their offensive line and secondary in free agency.
Joe Burrow has quickly risen to stardom, and Cincinnati shouldn’t want to be responsible for holding him back. The front office must get him some protection. Opposing defenses sacked Burrow 51 times in 2021, which led the NFL. The offensive line also allowed 19 sacks in the postseason.
Keeping the franchise quarterback upright is undoubtedly a priority. Top linemen like Terron Armstead, Ryan Jensen, and Brandon Scherff could be on the Bengals’ radar.
Cincinnati must also address its secondary. Lou Anarumo’s unit finished seventh-worst against the pass, allowing 248.3 yards per game through the air. Shoring up the backend could make the defense much stronger. J.C. Jackson, Stephon Gilmore, and Joe Haden are prime targets.
The Bengals have a bright future, but this is an important offseason.