The Cincinnati Bengals have some bills coming due.
One of them is for standout safety Jessie Bates III, who reportedly plans to hold out as he enters training camp with a franchise tag tender he hasn't signed. From the sound of team owner Mike Brown, the window for reaching a long-term deal might have closed.
Bates doesn't intend to report to the first day of camp on Tuesday with the rest of the Bengals veterans, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reports. Meanwhile, Brown spoke on Monday about a salary cap "puzzle" in Cincinnati with plans to prioritize quarterback Joe Burrow and his offensive weapons.
Will Bates play on franchise tender or sit?
For the short-term, Bates has a choice. Sign his franchise tender, play the season and let the rest play out later. Or he can sit. Signing a long-term deal in the near-team is off the table after the two sides failed to reach an agreement ahead of a July deadline to do so.
Bates, 25, has held down the starting free safety position since joining the Bengals as a second-round rookie out of Wake Forest in 2018. He was named All-Rookie in 2018 and earned second-team All-Pro honors in 2020. He's a team captain. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Bates and the Bengals have negotiated a long-term deal for two years while failing to reach an agreement. He reported to training camp last season without a deal, but doesn't plan to again on Tuesday.
Will he turn down $12.9 million?
Bates is slated to earn $12.9 million in 2022 if he eventually signs the franchise tender. He presumably expects considerably more annually after Minkah Fitzpatrick reset the safety market in June with a four-year $73.6 million extension that averages $18.4 million per season. But it's not coming this year.
Sitting would add up to a tough financial call for Bates. While less than he desires, $12.9 million is nearly twice the total $6.8 million he's earned over the entirety of his four-year rookie contract. That's life-changing money. Is he willing to sit out the entire season on principle with a long-term deal in 2022 already off the table?
Hope for an eventual long-term deal with the Bengals hasn't been completely squashed. But it doesn't sound likely at this point.
Bengals owner: 'We're going to lose some guys'
“This is a puzzle," Brown told reporters of the Bengals salary cap on Monday. "It just doesn’t all fit perfectly. We’re going to have some pluses. We’re going to get some guys signed that are critical to the team. And we’re going to lose some guys."
The biggest part of that "puzzle" is Burrow, who's entering Year 3 of his rookie contract having just led the Bengals to the Super Bowl.
"He's everything you would wish for, especially for a quarterback in Cincinnati," Brown said of Burrow. "Our whole focus is going to be on keeping him here."
Brown also mentioned second-year receiver Ja'Marr Chase, third-year receiver Tee Higgins and veteran receiver Tyler Boyd as priorities.
Mike Brown on Burrow contract: We're trying to prepare to find a way to keep Joe here, keep Chase here, keep Higgins here and keep Boyd here for example, it's gonna be a real challenge for us" @WLWT #Bengals #RuleTheJungle pic.twitter.com/XmobYTQE0O
— Mark Slaughter (@MarkVSlaughter) July 25, 2022
"We're trying to prepare to find a way to keep Joe here, keep Chase here, keep Higgins here and keep Boyd here, for example," Brown continued. "It's gonna be a real challenge for us."
Burrow, Chase and Higgins are all playing on rookie contracts and obvious priorities for the Bengals to sign long-term. Boyd, 27, is less of a concern as the No. 3 receiver with two years remaining on his contract.
Not mentioned in that list is Bates, who appears the odd man out for the Bengals' long-term plans.
"Jessie's a good guy," Brown continued. "We like him. He's been an excellent player. He fits with us. We're two years in trying to extend him. We weren't able to get there. I regret that we didn't.
"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 going to 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."