Source: Busy Falcons adding Bates to secondary
- Previously covered University of Michigan for ESPN.com and AnnArbor.com
- Also covered Notre Dame for Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
The Atlanta Falcons continued their free agent spending spree Monday, agreeing to terms with former Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III, sources told ESPN.
The deal, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, is for four years and $64.02 million, including $23 million in the first year and $36 million over the first two years overall. It makes Bates the fourth highest paid safety in NFL history.
Bates gives Atlanta a top-end safety in the secondary for new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen to go with cornerback A.J. Terrell, whom the team took in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft. Bates also offers Atlanta flexibility in the defensive backfield as the team returns both of its starters at safety from last season — Jaylinn Hawkins and Richie Grant.
Bates is the sixth player to either agree to terms or commit to the Falcons on Monday. New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata agreed to terms with the team, which also gave Pro Bowl right guard Chris Lindstrom a five-year extension through 2028. The Falcons also traded a seventh-round pick to New England for tight end Jonnu Smith and re-signed punter Bradley Pinion to a three-year deal and fullback Keith Smith to a one-year deal.
Bates, who has started 79 games over five seasons with the Bengals, registered a career-high four interceptions this past season while tallying eight pass deflections for one of the league’s most effective pass defenses.
Cincinnati led the NFL in 2022 in opposing completion percentage and held quarterbacks to the third-lowest Total QBR in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. When Bates was the nearest defender, per NFL Next Gen Stats, opponents were held to -8.7 completion percentage below expectation.
With post and split-field range over the top and a history of creating on-the-ball production with his 14 career interceptions, Bates fits easily into both single-high and two-deep schemes.
He played the 2022 season on the one-year franchise tag after he and the Bengals failed to come to terms on a long-term extension with him in two straight seasons. As the team approached the end of its season, the 2018 second-round pick out of Wake Forest said he knew he could be playing elsewhere in 2023.
“I’ve been emotional about it for a long time,” Bates said Jan. 30. “Still numb to it. ‘Gratitude’ is the word that I can really describe about everything that happened here over my past five years being here.”
Bates, who turned 26 in February, has 3 forced fumbles (2 recoveries) along with 478 tackles and 43 passes defended. He scored his only touchdown during his rookie season.
ESPN’s Ben Baby and Matt Bowen contributed to this report.
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