Jessie Bates' 2021 season wasn't the home-run year he'd expected, but the playoffs proved his worth. Now, we'll wait to see if that means a future with the reigning AFC champions.
After stepping up to make roughly a half-dozen crucial plays in Cincinnati's run to Super Bowl LVI, Bates is headed toward free agency. If the Bengals want to become mainstays in the conference title race, they'll need players like Bates.
Coach Zac Taylor acknowledged Bates' importance when asked about him Wednesday.
"Jessie's approach has been tremendous all year. Really been proud of him," Taylor said. "He's a big part of what we do. We're really proud of how he's led this team and how he played for us, really, over the last four years.
"Those are conversations that will always be ongoing. I think everyone knows we want Jessie to be a part of this. We'll just continue to work through those discussions."
After recording at least 100 tackles and three interceptions in each of his first three years, Bates struggled through the 2021 regular season, finishing the 17-game slate below those marks for the first time in his career. The timing couldn't have been worse for him personally, as Bates was playing through a contract year and hadn't proven he'd be worth a lucrative extension many saw coming for him ahead of the 2021 campaign.
Bates acknowledged the difficulties he experienced in 2021, telling Pro Football Focus in November he was focused on being "the old Jessie Bates" as his team's season neared its final stretch.
Bates did just that, assembling a collection of key plays in the postseason that included two interceptions, six passes defensed and 20 tackles. Bates denied the Chiefs another overtime playoff victory with a deflection that led to a Cincinnati interception in the AFC Championship Game and helped send the Bengals to the Super Bowl. Two weeks later, he snagged a Matthew Stafford pass that prevented the Rams from extending their lead in the first half of Super Bowl LVI.
His run was so remarkable, our own Gregg Rosenthal kept track of Bates' significant plays via Twitter.
Despite Cincinnati's eventual loss in Super Bowl LVI, it became clear the old Jessie Bates had returned at the perfect time. Now, it's up to the Bengals to decide whether they're willing to sign up for more.
Cincinnati is working with a hefty amount of projected cap space entering 2022, currently standing in third among all NFL teams with $57.3 million in room to work, per Over The Cap. Bates would take up a decent amount of that space, but not a number that would be prohibitive to an extension.
The Bengals will have to plan ahead for an eventual extension for Joe Burrow, of course, but seem to be in good financial shape.
Bates proved in the postseason he's still a valuable defender. It might only be a matter of time before the two sides get a deal done.