Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton had said during OTAs he couldn’t see Bates not playing this season simply because of how much he loves the game, but he was also one who was hopeful the Bengals would give him a long-term deal.
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 for at least one more 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.”
Bates last year had referenced wanting to model his situation after how Broncos safety Justin Simmons patiently handled his contract negotiations before his organization made him the highest paid player at his position at that time. Fellow safeties like Jamal Adams and Harrison Smith then went on and received extensions from their teams last August, and Bates likely was looking for similar money, between $15 and $17.5 million over four or five years.
“I’m not too worried about the ego part of being the highest-paid safety, but I do know value over cost,” Bates said in the interview with Ruiz. “That is something that not just myself but my agency, my team, that we’re going to continue to evaluate.”