It appears that the Bengals will not reach a deal with star safety Jessie Bates, and some of the reasons why lead right back to Minkah Fitzpatrick. That may sound weird at first, but this is a position the Steelers do not find themselves in as often as they maybe should.
However, one of Omar Khan’s first deviations from tradition was signing Fitzpatrick shortly after mandatory minicamp ended. The Steelers under Kevin Colbert would often drag out the negotiation process throughout training camp, as they did with Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt.
There are multiple aspects of that early strategy that make it smart. For one, the Steelers now have the ability to negotiate with other players that need contract extensions. More importantly, they got out in front of the safety market. Derwin James and Jessie Bates were scheduled to have new contracts in the upcoming months. For Bates, who was on the franchise tag, that deadline was today, July 15th.
Fitzpatrick’s Contract Versus the Bates Offer
The Steelers made Fitzpatrick the highest-paid safety ever, giving him an average of $18.4 million per year. That reset the market, over the Seahawks and Jamal Adams. Not only that, but Fitzpatrick got $36 million guaranteed from the Steelers. So, that makes the first two years of the deal guaranteed.
So, when the Bengals went back to the negotiating table with Bates, simply put, the offer did not match what he was looking for. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the Bengals only offered Bates about $17 million guaranteed.
For the #Bengals and star S Jessie Bates: The team's final offer guaranteed Bates only $4M more than what he would get if he eventually signs the franchise tag. Big difference is the tag locks Bates in for one year while the Bengals' offer locked him in for 5 additional years.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 15, 2022
While the average per year was higher, it seemed that the guaranteed money was not there. With Bates playing on the franchise tag, which is fully guaranteed, for just under $13 million this season, the guaranteed money had to be competitive with recent deals in the market. Fitzpatrick set the high figure at $36 million guaranteed. Now, according to Josina Anderson of CBS Sports, Bates will not report to training camp either.
I'm told #Bengals S Jessie Bates has no intentions of reporting to training camp, nor playing on the franchise tag, per league source.
The two sides are currently unable to come to terms on an extension on today's deadline for long-term deals for players designated with the tag.
— IG: JosinaAnderson (@JosinaAnderson) July 15, 2022
The Bengals will have to think about contracts with Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins soon. Ja’Marr Chase was just drafted last year, but he is not all that far around the corner, either. Is Bates a sacrifice to keep those pieces in place? It is possible, but they could likely fit that under the cap if they wanted to do so. The Fitzpatrick contract made it far harder to get that done.
If the Bengals wanted to get Bates signed, they likely would have to step up before the Steelers or Chargers did with Minkah Fitzpatrick and Derwin James. Looking with an eye towards the future, the Bengals instead lowballed Bates on the guaranteed money and thus, they are nowhere close to a deal.
What this says for the future of Jessie Bates
For the Bengals and Jessie Bates, it is likely a divorce is coming soon. That could be through a sign and trade before this season even kicks off. It could come after this season when Bates hits this open market. Either way, the Bengals are likely to lose an elite free safety to try and keep a young core together offensively.
The reality is that the Bengals never offered a competitive guaranteed money number. Bates was likely asking for more than Fitzpatrick’s $36 million guaranteed. Instead, he was never even offered half of that number. Fitzpatrick’s contract could have upped Bates’s demands even more.
Signing the players earlier and resetting the market at a given position is usually good business for teams. Myles Garrett’s $25 million a year contract with Cleveland looks like a steal now. The Steelers were able to keep one of their core players for the foreseeable future.
The Bengals were in a tough spot. They do not structure their deals exotically like teams such as the Los Angeles Rams or New Orleans Saints. Cincinnati may have had to do just that to keep Bates in the fold. Still, the massive gap in guaranteed money is only exacerbated by what Fitzpatrick received in his deal.
It what was Khan’s first deviation from the normal trends of how the Steelers do business, a situation just like this one shows why it was smart to sign Fitzpatrick so early.