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Jessie Bates contract spat is Cincinnati Bengals’ latest frugal misstep

The Cincinnati Bengals may have acquired multiple free agents this offseason in an effort to build their roster, but their long-standing tradition of frugality and conservatism continues to fail them, and has again with Jessie Bates III.

Not come to terms on a second contract with Bates is the latest blunder of this variety for Cincinnati. News recently broke from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that Bates and the team “are not expected to reach a contract extension at this time.”

Yes, the Bengals brought in cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton, and have outside corner Darius Phillips entering a contract year as well, but Bates is clearly the best defensive back of that entire bunch.

Bates was Pro Football Focus’ top-graded safety in 2020, and there’s a fair chance he’ll walk next offseason if Cincinnati doesn’t change its tune.

Having a stout secondary in the modern NFL is extremely important, and if the Bengals can get absolutely any pass rush from their defensive front or manufacture pressure with blitzing linebackers, their defense should take a huge step forward. That’s a big “if” at this point, though.

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Jessie Bates is newest Cincinnati Bengals star the organization has irked

Jessie Bates is newest Cincinnati Bengals star the organization has irked
Cincinnati Bengals free safety Jessie Bates (30) watches a replay on the board after the Ravens score a touchdown in the first quarter of the NFL Week 17 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. The Ravens led 17-3 at half time. Baltimore Ravens At Cincinnati Bengals

Even though injuries played a part, Geno Atkins put together a solid decade of service to the Bengals and was an elite interior pass-rusher. He was phased out of Cincinnati’s defensive line rotation almost entirely in 2020.

Carlos Dunlap has been among the steadiest edge defenders in all of football since the Bengals drafted him. By the middle of last season, they’d baffled him so much that he went ever so public with a trade demand, which was ultimately granted.

William Jackson III was a rare first-round pick who truly hit for Cincinnati in recent years. Instead of rewarding him in free agency, Jackson went to the Washington Football Team and later said it was a “blessing” to leave the Bengals.

Instead of trying to reverse this obvious culture problem, Cincinnati is staying the course with whatever delusional long-term vision it has internally. Meanwhile, even when the team does spend, it seems to be for worse players.

Even with Jessie Bates, the Bengals don’t field a top-20 defensive unit. See who makes the cut in our NFL defense rankings

Prized free agent Trey Hendrickson is quite arguably a lesser player than the defensive end the Bengals let walk to the New York Jets in Carl Lawson. Also, who’s going to argue that Awuzie is a better outside corner than Jackson right now? Nobody.

Bottom line: This Bates incident isn’t an isolated one, and it’s absolutely time for fans to hit the panic button.

Jessie Bates contract situation is microcosm of Bengals wasting Joe Burrow’s rookie deal

Jessie Bates contract situation is microcosm of Bengals wasting Joe Burrow's rookie deal
Jun 15, 2021; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) stretches during minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

By not building a competent offensive line around No. 1 overall draft pick Joe Burrow during his rookie season, the Bengals exposed their prized quarterback to brutal punishment. It ultimately resulted in a catastrophic knee injury that has Burrow still knocking off the rust entering his second season.

It’s never wise to bet against Burrow given the adversity he’s overcome en route to the NFL, but there are greater forces here beyond his control.

Burrow has repeatedly professed how much he likes head coach Zac Taylor. It doesn’t seem like lip service. Unfortunately, if Cincinnati finishes last in the AFC North again, as many anticipate, Taylor is likely to be out of a job, and Burrow will be entering the third year of his rookie contract digesting a different system with a new coaching staff.

See where the Bengals rank in our latest update of NFL power rankings

We’re looking at a highly probable Square 1 reset in 2022 for this team, and a move one year closer to Burrow’s second contract, where bringing in outside talent will be much more difficult.

Oh, and the Bengals are bungling the Bates situation now, which may leave Cincinnati without its most elite defender going forward.

What is the vision here? Is the goal for Cincinnati to actually build a winner around Burrow, or to see how little he can be surrounded by and still carry the team to fringe playoff contention?

This is why Carson Palmer said the Bengals weren’t committed to winning when he played there. They still don’t seem to be in the context of their petty squabble with Bates and their to-date inability or unwillingness to surround Burrow with a good enough roster to even dream of a playoff berth.

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