Jessie Bates has no leverage in contract dispute with Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals fans are reverberating with the shockwaves of the news that star safety Jessie Bates refuses to play under the franchise tag. Faced with the unsavory prospect of being without their defensive stalwart for the 2022 season, what should the Bengals do?
It’s simple: Dig in your heels and wait.
Bates has no leverage here — None. And there are substantial penalties for him if he continues to pout and refuses to play under the tag, which offers him a top-10 salary at the position this year. If he signs the franchise tender, he will earn approximately $12.9 million this year, according to Spotrac. That’s not a bad raise for a guy who earned under $3M last season.
Would any of you complain if your employer offered you a 425% raise next year to do the exact same job? That’s essentially what Bates is doing. He’s refusing to play – refusing to do the exact same job he did last year – for a raise in excess of 425%.
This isn’t the open market. He can’t quit his job and go elsewhere (not in the NFL, at least). If he wants to play football, he’s going to play for Cincinnati. If he doesn’t want to play under the tag, he will not earn any salary in 2022. If faced with the prospect of earning nearly $13M or earning nothing, it’s a pretty easy decision — You take the $13 million.
Forfeiting the salary wouldn’t be the only penalty Bates would face. There are other good reasons to believe he won’t follow through with this holdout.
If Bates sits out the season, he will not accrue a season toward free agency. In other words, he’ll be no closer to free agency at this time next year than he is right now, as the Bengals could just tag him again.
To accrue a season, Bates must play in at least six regular-season games this season. If a player sits out, they don’t accrue a season. It’s that simple.
Furthermore, per the NFL, if a player “holds out his services for a ‘material period of time,’ he is also at risk of not accruing a season.” So basically, if Bates holds out, he’s not only forfeiting his salary, he’s also potentially forfeiting his right to hit free agency next year. That’s a poor gamble.
The recent history of others making the same decision isn’t pretty…
In a career that has a limited shelf life, every year of earnings potential is critical. Just ask Le’Veon Bell. He’s the most recent example of a player that held out for an entire season.
In 2017, Bell was arguably the best running back in football. He played in 15 games, rushing for nearly 1,300 yards from scrimmage, catching 85 passes for 655 yards, and tallying 11 total touchdowns. He was a stud but the Steelers could not reach a long-term deal with him and they slapped the franchise tag on him prior to the 2018 season.
Bell refused to play under the tag, forgoing the $14.5M salary he would have earned. The Steelers opted not to tag him the following year, and Bell hit the open market. He landed what was reported as a 4-year, $52.5M contract from the Jets but he ended up receiving only $28M over parts of two seasons before being released.
He was never able to recoup that $14.5M he would have earned from the Steelers in 2018. In hindsight, it was an inexcusable, financially illiterate decision. Sure, people oftentimes make decisions “on principle” – usually code for making a decision based on emotion, rather than logic – but in Bell’s case, the principle cost him almost $15 million dollars.
Jessie Bates is primed to make the same mistake.
One way or the other, he’s getting a big payday in 2023; That much is a given. No matter the contract he eventually signs, he will never be able to get back his 2022 season, or the 2022 salary he will forfeit by refusing to blink first.
Would the Bengals be better if they have Bates in 2022?
When he’s on top of his game (think last year’s playoffs, not last year’s regular-season), he makes a strong claim as the best safety in the NFL.
But, do the Bengals need Bates in 2022?
After the shrewd drafting of Daxton Hill in the first round of this year’s draft, the answer is a resounding no. Hill was plainly drafted as the heir apparent at safety. With Bates’ holdout, it looks like the future is now. The Bengals have planned ahead, and are prepared to move forward without him.
Frankly, the Bengals have little incentive to cave to Bates’ petulant demands. Sure, they could attempt to trade him, but why? Why give in? They spent considerable resources drafting and developing him.
Under the CBA, they have the rights to his labor this year, should he decide to play. Giving in at this point would set a bad precedent, as it would signal to future players that Bates’ tactic will be rewarded with an increased salary or a trade. That just creates more headaches down the road.
Mike Brown should dig in his heels on this one with a simple message: “Jessie, we love you, and we want you to play in Cincinnati. But if you’re not going to play here, you’re not going to play.”
Take the money, Jessie. Sign the tender. Don’t miss out on a Super Bowl ring this year over a couple of bucks. It’s not worth it.