A day after making his official return to the Cincinnati Bengals and signed his franchise tender, safety Jessie Bates III sat in front of the microphone and unpacked months of thoughts.
While he said he doesn’t know why he chose this week to come back, he had a simple answer to if he’ll play in the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The goal for Bates is to get on track for Week 1. The fifth-year veteran is currently on the exempt list, which means he can practice with the team up to two weeks without being counted on the active roster.
His official return to practice will have to wait, as Bates said he’ll be easing back into things, starting with individual drills during the joint practices between the Bengals and Los Angeles Rams.
Returning nearly three weeks prior to the season opener allows Bates to properly return to a defense he helped captain last season. The 25-year-old made claims during his holdout that he wasn’t interested in playing under the franchise tag, and even admitted there were thoughts of him not showing up for camp at all. But in addition to his lack of leverage throughout the ordeal, Bates provided a simple reason for his return.
“I love football too much to sit out a whole year.”
Underneath the headlines and threats, this was always the plan. Bates knew this year is another chance to earn the deal he’s striving towards, and sitting out an entire season was not going to help him accomplish that.
“This is a great opportunity for me to create some wealth for my family,” Bates said of playing under the tag. “The franchise tag number isn’t bad.”
What’s better is a multi-year deal with more guaranteed money than any safety in the league. That’s what Bates and agent David Mulugheta were hoping for this offseason. A month after Mulugheta and the Bengals reached an impasse, he secured Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James $38.5 million guaranteed at a $19 million average annual value.
The new monetary benchmark for Bates has been set by his own representation, but there’s another aspect that Bates is acutely aware of.
“There’s not a lot of teams in this league that have an elite quarterback, like Joe Burrow. I think if you want to be on a good team, you gotta have a good quarterback, and that’s something that obviously I think we’ll stick in the back of my mind as the next couple of years come.”
Burrow has proved to be about as useful of a negotiation piece as there is, but the money still has to be right for Bates to stick around past 2022. And another contract year stands in his way.
Bates received ample scrutiny for his play last year, the first real contract year of his career. After a rough first half of the season, Bates’ level of play returned to expectation as he helped the Bengals punch their ticket to Super Bowl LVI. For another Super Bowl run to occur, Cincinnati will need the best of Bates once more.
“My mindset has always been every year is a contract year and to gain the respect around the league. Whether it’s here, which I would love it to be, whether it’s somewhere else, I’m gonna show who Jessie Bates is on and off the field.”
Watch the full press conference here.