Seven-time NBA champion Robert Horry may have said it best: “Pressure can burst a pipe, or pressure can make a diamond.”
For the first half of 2021, Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III was a pipe on the brink of bursting. The pressure continued to mount as Bates worried over things he could not control, like his contract situation with the Bengals.
The parties failed to reach a deal, and Cincinnati eventually placed the franchise tag on Bates, which he signed on August 23rd after missing all of training camp.
“Sometimes you put too much pressure on yourself,” said Bengals safety Mike Thomas, an 11-year veteran and a team captain. “This year, I’ve seen Jessie let it go. I’ve seen him be able to play free. He’s being the best teammate he can be and the best player he can be. He’s not carrying that extra weight.”
Bates’ play began to turn around in the second half of last season, and he was an absolute beast in the playoffs. After a slow start to 2022, he has picked up right where he left off, and recorded his second interception of the season against the Panthers this past Sunday.
“I had to get in a groove,” Bates said. “I missed the whole training camp. That was a lot different. You got to get in the flow of the game. I’m not making that as an excuse. I haven’t been targeted as much. I got to do my job. I got to do my 1/11th. That’s what happens when you have a really good defense.”
The very fact that he is not being targeted as much speaks volumes for the respect that opposing offenses have for the fifth-year pro out of Wake Forest. And it is a respect that is shared by Bates’s teammates, who are watching the diamond emerge once more.
“Jessie is able to play free, knowing he can’t control his contract situation,” Thomas said. “We all just encourage him. That’s the great thing about this locker room. His situation will take care of itself. The only thing he can control is being that same leader, that same great teammate and the same great player that’s out there controlling the defense.”
Most likely, his situation has already been taken care of. With looming contracts for Tee Higgins, Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, the odds of the Bengals signing Bates to a long-term contract are minimal at best. But, this year, that is the last thing on his mind.
“I’m living in the now,” Bates said. “Enjoying the guys that are in this locker room. The rest will take care of itself.”