Mike Hilton had two main points of emphasis during the Bengals’ first day of OTAs. Cincinnati’s veteran cornerback wants his team to prove that last season’s AFC championship run wasn’t a fluke. Hilton also wants to see his teammate, free safety Jessie Bates III, receive a contract extension.
Bates, who is entering his fifth season with the franchise, was franchise tagged earlier this offseason. He was not present for the start of Cincinnati’s OTAs.
“Yeah, we’ve been talking all offseason,” Hilton said, via The Cincinnati Enquirer. “Everybody in that locker room wants Jessie to get what he deserves. We know as a team, he’s a cornerstone piece for this franchise.
“On my end, I’m going to do what I can do to keep pushing and keep putting it out there for him to sign long term. If it happens, great. But also, everybody knows the business side of the NFL. And nobody would be upset or pissed at him if he didn’t show up or he ended up going somewhere else. It’s just part of the game. But he knows that everybody in this locker room wants him here.”
Bengal coach Zac Taylor didn’t seem to mind the fact that Bates has chosen to not attend the start of OTAs.
“We just take it day to day,” said Taylor, who last season guided the Bengals to the franchise’s third trip to the Super Bowl and first since 1988. “It’s all voluntary. Some guys have workout bonuses, so they’re here on their own, and some guys aren’t.”
The 54th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Bates has started in each of his 67 games with the Bengals. While his regular season totals were not as substantial as they usually are, Bates made several big plays during the team’s run through the AFC playoffs. He set up the Bengals’ first points after he intercepted Ryan Tannehill on the first offensive play of Cincinnati’s divisional round playoff win over the Titans. In the Super Bowl three weeks later, his pick of Matthew Stafford at the start of the second half helped the Bengals extend their lead. Cincinnati ultimately fell to Los Angeles, 23-20.
Bates is slated to earn $12.91 million next season under the franchise tag. His market value, according to Spotrac, is projected at $74.36 million over five years for an annual salary of $14.87 million. That would make him the NFL’s highest-paid safety in terms of total money and fourth in terms of annual salary.
Cincinnati selected three safeties during the 2022 NFL Draft, including their first-round pick, Michigan’s Daxton Hill. The Bengals then drafted Nebraska safety Cam Taylor-Britt in the second round and Toledo safety Tycen Anderson in the five round. While they were drafted as safeties, it’s expected that Hill and Taylor-Britt will be asked to help out at cornerback, a position the Bengals did not technically address during the draft.