Shortly after Vonn Bell committed to the Panthers, Jessie Bates will join him in the NFC South. The former Bengals safety agreed to terms with the Falcons on Monday afternoon, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.
The deal will move Bates into the top five in NFL history at safety. He agreed to a four-year, $64MM contract with Atlanta, Rapoport adds (on Twitter). This agreement will move Bates into fourth place among safeties, checking in behind only Derwin James, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jamal Adams.
Following through on a clear free agency fit, the Falcons are giving Bates $23MM in Year 1 and $36MM by Year 2, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter), to bring him to Georgia. PFR’s No. 6 overall free agent, Bates did not see a 2022 franchise tag suppress his value. He will now tack this monster Atlanta accord onto the $12.9MM he collected on the tag in his Cincinnati finale.
Bates, 26, negotiated with the Bengals in 2021 and ’22, and while he expressed a desire to stay during that time period, the tag failing to produce an extension by last July’s deadline began paving a path out of town. The Falcons entered free agency in second place for cap space, and they will use it to fill a position that has lacked consistency over the past few years. The Falcons have not been able to lock down their safety spot since the breakup of Super Bowl LI starters Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen. In Bates, they have a former second-round pick who became an instant starter.
Bates picked off Matthew Stafford in Super Bowl LVI, finishing a strong playoff run that ended his 2021 season on a better note. Bates ranked as Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 overall safety in 2020 but was less solid in 2021, admitting failed extension talks affected his play. But Bates notched two playoff interceptions and broke up a Patrick Mahomes overtime pass that led to a crucial Bell pick in the 2021 AFC championship game. Last season, PFF rated Bates 24th overall at the position; the Wake Forest product intercepted a career-high four passes.
The Chiefs avenged their upset loss in the AFC title rematch, and the Bengals will now be left without the Bates-Bell duo that had become one of the NFL’s top back-line tandems. Cincinnati used its 2022 first-round pick on a post-Bates contingency plan, in Dax Hill, but the team will need to do a little work at the position. Although this safety market is deep, the Bengals may have trouble matching the level of safety play they have received in recent years.
Entering Year 3 of the Terry Fontenot-Arthur Smith regime, Atlanta was expected to be active on the market. Now free of Matt Ryan dead money, the team has indeed been busy to start the legal tampering period. The Falcons have extended Chris Lindstrom, traded for Jonnu Smith, signed ex-Ryan Nielsen Saints D-line charge David Onyemata and now landed one of the biggest fish in this year’s free agency pool in Bates.