Bates was one of two players not present Tuesday on the first day of OTAs open to media, as the Bengals are now in Phase 2 of the voluntary offseason workout program. Defensive end Trey Hendrickson was the only other player not there Tuesday, and coach Zac Taylor said he is just doing workouts on his own.
Taylor also wasn’t concerned last week when asked about Bates not attending. Hilton believes when it’s all said and done, Bates wants to be on the field.
“For sure, it’s just his love for the game, period,” Hilton said. “His love of the game is just -- not a lot of people have that. You can tell how much he puts into his body, how much he puts into the playbook, you can just read into how much he enjoys the game.”
None of the offseason workouts are mandatory this year, but Bates would be fined for not participating in training camp and he would forfeit $12.9 million he is owed to play on the franchise tag.
The Bengals used the franchise tag to lock him down for 2022 while still trying to negotiate a contract to keep him in Cincinnati for longer, but the deadline to get that done is July 15 and it appears there remains a gap between the two parties’ wishes.
Hilton has been a vocal in his support of Bates, saying the Bengals need to “give him what he deserves” with a long-term deal, and he has remained in constant communication with the team’s free safety, offering his support.
“I can’t say too much, but you know, everybody here wants Jessie back and wants him here for the long term,” Hilton said. “So, we’re gonna put our trust in the front office for them to get this done. Everybody knows how much Jessie means to this team, this defense. He’s a guy that we look forward to coming back soon.”
A fifth-year player in 2022, Bates originally was a second-round draft pick of the Bengals in 2018. He has played in 63 career games (all starts) for Cincinnati and has 406 tackles, 10 interceptions, 35 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Bates in 2021 was a team captain for the Bengals as they won the AFC Championship and advanced to Super Bowl LVI. However, he got off to a slow season – after ProFootballFocus.com graded Bates as the best free safety in the league in 2020 – and he posted career-lows in multiple categories last season, finishing with 88 tackles, four passes defensed and one interception.
It wasn’t until the postseason he really caught fire again, compiling 20 tackles, six passes defensed and two interceptions in four playoff games. Bates said he was thinking too much about his situation and was able to play better once he stopped focusing on that. He had hoped to get a deal done last training camp.
Bates had told Omar Ruiz on the NFL Network’s NFL Now show earlier this year he prefers not to play on a franchise tag but at the time that was still a conversation he needed to have with the team. Two weeks later, the Bengals used the tag on him to ensure he would stick around.
The Seahawks made Jamal Adams the league’s highest paid safety last year with a four-year, $70 million deal, and his average of $17.5 million a year still remains the figure to beat. Denver’s Justin Simmons, who Bates has referenced in the past, makes $15.25 million a year.
“I’ve put a lot of trust in them with this whole process of just trying to stay focused and control what I can,” Bates said in the interview. “We’ll see. Hopefully, I’m not (playing) under a franchise tag. That’s something I feel like needs to be discussed (with) 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’ve just got to play your cards right, I guess you could say.”