Though it wasn't the news their standout safety was hoping to hear, the Cincinnati Bengals are ensuring a pillar of their defense isn't playing elsewhere in 2022.
The Bengals on Monday placed the franchise tag on Jessie Bates, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported, per a source. The team later made the news official.
Bates was hoping to receive a new contract coming off his impactful play during the Bengals' Super Bowl LVI run. The tag figure for safeties is $12.911 million.
"That's a conversation I think that we'll have with my agency and my team," Bates said on Feb. 23 during an appearance on NFL NOW. "I put a lot of trust in them with this whole process. I'm just trying to stay focused, control what I can. We'll see. Hopefully I'm not under a franchise tag. That's something that needs to be discussed as 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 just got to play your cards right, I guess you could say."
Considering the Bengals' room under the cap and coach Zac Taylor declaring the importance of retaining Bates this offseason, hope is not all lost for a new contract. A long-term deal can still be reached with the club by the July 15 deadline, but Bates' salary for 2022 is projected at $13.5 million under the tag if no new deal is found.
"Jessie has been an outstanding player here for four years," Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn said in a team statement. "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."
Bates, who is ranked 10th on Gregg Rosenthal's initial Top 101 NFL free agents, is deserving of a payday with four years of reliable play under his belt and especially after his performance in the 2021 playoffs. The Bengals safety came up clutch in several big moments, including an interception in the Divisional Round, a pass breakup that led to a game-sealing turnover in the AFC Championship Game and an end-zone interception in Super Bowl LVI. Bates led all players in the 2021 playoffs with six passes defensed and earned the highest Pro Football Focus grade (88.1) among safeties.
Bates, 25, has started in all but two games for the Bengals since being selected in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. In 63 career regular-season games, Bates has compiled 408 tackles, 35 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and 10 interceptions.