CINCINNATI --- Cincinnati Bengals owner and president Mike Brown said he regrets that after two years trying to extend Jessie Bates’ contract, the team was not able to get a long-term deal done with the star free safety. He still hopes that something can be done after this season, but Bates is not the only player the Bengals have to think about now.
The Bengals placed the franchise tag on Bates in April but were not able to come to a long-term contract agreement by the July 15 deadline. Brown believes Bates will play for the Bengals this year -- the tag is worth $12.9 million – but that’s not a given.
Players in Bates’ situation sometimes aren’t interested in risking injury without financial security for the future. The Bengals open camp Wednesday, but it’s possible Bates could skip training camp.
“Jessie’s a good guy,” Brown said Monday at the team’s annual pre-camp media luncheon. “We like him. He’s been an excellent player. He fits with us. … Keep in mind that we have a lot going on. We’re trying to get ready for our cap as we go down the line, and we’re gonna need room for our quarterback, for our receivers and for some other people who are going to want to get paid at the top level too. It’s not easy to fit all these in, and one thing I expect Jessie to be here and play for us this year. That’ll be something that we look forward to.”
Coach Zac Taylor said communication with Bates has still been good, but he’s not going to make any predictions on if or when Bates will show up this summer. He’s confident Bates will be ready to go whenever he does, but in the meantime, Taylor said “it’ll be critical for (first-round draft pick) Dax (Hill) to take every opportunity he gets so he’ll be ready to play whatever role comes at him this year.”
Asked whether he is concerned about Bates’ situation having a trickle-down effect on the rest of the roster when it comes to future contract negotiations with other players, Brown said there will always be challenges navigating the roster, salary cap and spending down the road.
The main issue impacting what the Bengals could do with Bates is the quarterback market and the knowledge how much they might need to spend to keep Joe Burrow, who can begin new contract negotiations after this year. Tee Higgins also will be entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2023, and Ja’Marr Chase comes down the line the following year.
“This is a puzzle, and it just doesn’t all fit perfectly,” Brown said. “We’re going to have some pluses. We’re gonna get some guys signed that are critical to the team. And we’re going to lose some guys. Right now, our obvious, most important issue will be with our quarterback. It’s not quite ready or ripe yet but it’s right down the track. We see the train coming and right with him are going to be the receivers pretty soon. They’re critical. And we have others that we like a lot and want to keep. I hope we can. We’re trying our best to keep the guys that we think are the very best players we have. Sometimes we’re going to lose a guy.”
Director of player personnel Duke Tobin said “there’s no hard feelings” with the Bengals and Bates not being able to compromise on a deal. The team had a number in mind it could live with going forward, but couldn’t get the player feeling comfortable with it.
While the Bengals are focused on 2022, they can’t ignore what is happening around the league. Deshaun Watson signed a five-year contract worth $230 million after being traded from the Houston Texans to the Cleveland Browns, and the entire deal is guaranteed. Last week, the Arizona Cardinals signed quarterback Kyler Murray to a give-year $230.5 million contract with $160 million of it guaranteed.
“It’ll be a challenge, probably, but I like what (Patrick) Mahomes said,” Brown said. “He wasn’t bothered by all the big quarterback contracts that came after him because he had enough to set him up for a lifetime anyway. I can’t tell you how this is going to unfold. I can tell you that we couldn’t be happier with Joe Burrow. He’s everything you would wish for, especially for a quarterback in Cincinnati. Our whole focus is going to be on keeping him here.”
The Bengals already are getting more creative about preparing for upcoming expenses, as Brown confirmed the team is looking to sell stadium naming rights.
Last year’s run to the Super Bowl helped the team financially, as Brown noted season tickets sold out, but being in a smaller market, the revenue stream doesn’t compare to franchises in bigger cities. A rights deal could help, but Brown did not disclose if that is expected to be done before the start of the season or if Paul Brown would still be incorporated into the stadium name.
“My father’s name has been up there and I think deservedly so,” Brown said. “This is a move that I do think he would have agreed to. He was always for what’s best for the football team. It’s a time now where we need a revenue stream that will help us as do such things as build the indoor facility. It’ll help us perhaps handle the cap a little bit easier. We’re a small-market team. We need the revenue streams that we can obtain. The fact that about 30 teams have naming rights and a revenue stream from that and they have more revenue than we do to begin with. We have to do some things just to keep up. I don’t have anything to say about it as to what, when or how. When it comes time for an announcement, we’ll make an announcement. But not today.”
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