NFL Insider: Bengals’ cheap habits leave door open for AFC North rivals

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The Cincinnati Bengals’ cheap habits remain in 2022. A lowball offer to safety Jessie Bates leaves the door open for AFC North rivals to take back the crown.

Friday afternoon was the deadline for players who received a franchise tag to sign extensions before the upcoming season. Any player unable to reach terms on a new deal with their organization will play out the 2022 season on a team-friendly deal, and they will then return to the negotiation table next offseason. The Cincinnati Bengals and safety Jessie Bates are one example of that exact scenario, but unfortunately for Bengals fans, their failure to sign a new deal highlighted a historical flaw in the Cincinnati front office: they are cheap.

Bates’ lacking extension immediately after his rookie contract isn’t an extreme oddity. Teams, after all, are prone to retain control over a good player for cheap by placing a franchise tag or two on them. The Chiefs and left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. are a prime example of just that. However, contrary to the Bengals’ situation with Bates, the Chiefs made Brown a competitive offer. It was one that awarded his three straight Pro Bowls and allowed the team to express its desire in keeping him in town. Conversely, the Bengals all but slapped their star safety in the face.

After weathering the storm that was playing for the Bengals from 2018-2020 (three last-place finishes in the AFC North), maintaining his competitive edge and helping lead Cincinnati to its first Super Bowl appearance in over 30 years should have warranted a respectable offer to Bates. In terms of safety contracts, $10 million average annual value is the cutoff between the average and the good safeties in the league. According to FanSided’s Matt Verderame, “the Bengals’ best offer amounted to a grand total of $17 million over five years.”

Bengals offer star safety, Jessie Bates, below-average AAV contract after leading defense to Super Bowl last season

Bates will be playing on a $12.7 million franchise tag this year… why would he ever sign a deal which would earn him $3.4 million a year over the next five? More over, why would the Bengals even put that offer on the table? Over the past four seasons, Bates has started all 63 games that he’s played, hauled in 10 interceptions, defended 35 passes, forced two fumbles, and racked up 408 total tackles. That offer outlines the Bengals’ perspective of Jessie Bates, on an annual value basis, in between the likes of Malik Hooker (Dallas) and Eric Murray (Houston), each of whom have played far less and produced far inferior statistics in comparison to Bates.

This is a massive blunder by the Cincinnati brass, and one that has historically hurt them. They have never been willing to pay to keep their best players around, and that has hindered the team from maintaining success. The lack of willingness to pay for talent is a pinpoint argument as to why the Bengals just concluded a 30-year Super Bowl drought. Clearly, this is a flaw that fans will not see rectified in the near future, and it is going to hurt the team’s chance at continued success immediately.

In an AFC North where the Cleveland Browns — albeit a questionable decision — just paid Deshaun Watson a historic contract, the Baltimore Ravens are beefed up and healthy, and the Pittsburgh Steelers were a playoff team last year, the Bengals’ Super Bowl run could very possibly be overshadowed in the coming months. If the Bengals’ winning well runs dry this season, and the organization is unwilling to adjust its position on paying talented players, nobody will want to be in Cincinnati long-term. The magic that was the Bengals’ 2021 season will be remembered as a small flame, snuffed out before it had a chance to burn.

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