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Bengals safety Jessie Bates was due to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent in March. The Bengals exercised their right under the Collective Bargaining Agreement to restrict his ability to do so, via the franchise tag. Bates, in turn, has exercised his right to not sign the franchise tender.
He’s currently no more under contract with the Bengals than you or me or anyone else who isn’t under contract with the team. Throw in the fact that the workouts are voluntary, and Bates is doing nothing that any franchise-tagged player who hasn’t signed his franchise tender should be doing by staying away from the offseason program.
It’s part of the dance, and it happens almost every (if not every) year with one or more players who hope to get a long-term deal before July 15, the deadline for signing a franchise-tagged player to anything more than a one-year contract. And if the Bengals, who possibly drafted Bates’s eventual replacement in round one (safety Daxton Hill) decide simply to keep Bates for a year under the franchise tag and not offer an acceptable, or any, long-term deal, Bates has the right under the CBA to stay away from training camp and all of preseason, signing his tender just days before the start of the regular season and making the full $12.9 million he’s due to earn under the one-year deal the team offered him.
Of course, the Bengals have the power to rescind the tender until he signs it. The later that happens, the harder it becomes for Bates to cash in as a suddenly unrestricted free agent.
That’s happened three times in the past 20 years. The Eagles did it to linebacker Jeremiah Trotter in 2002. He promptly signed with Washington. The Eagles did it again with defensive tackle Corey Simon, late in the 2005 offseason. He landed with the Colts. And the Panthers did it with cornerback Josh Norman in April 2016. He signed with Washington.
It’s unlikely that the Bengals would do it with Bates. However, if Hill shows he could immediately step in and replace Bates, maybe the Bengals would decide to bank the $12.9 million for future use on other players who will eventually be due to get much larger contracts, from quarterback Joe Burrow to receiver JaMarr Chase to various others whose profile and earning potential will rise if the Bengals continue to compete at a high level in the AFC.
Regardless as long as Bates hasn’t signed his tender, he shouldn’t show up. It’s a fairly basic page in the franchise-tag playbook. And it’s one of the many dynamics of the league laid out in the pages of Playmakers.
I know it may now seem like I wrote this item simply to conclude it with a Playmakers plug. I didn’t. But it became one, because I realized that there could be some useful stuff in there, given that it’s based on 20 years of patterns and trends and dynamics of the broader business. Like this one: player gets tagged, player doesn’t sign it, and of course player doesn’t show up and practice until he does.