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    Cincinnati Bengals news: In game of chicken, Jessie Bates III swerves first

    Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III was always going to play under the franchise tag in 2022 -- assuming he still wanted a career in football.

    In the end, Tuesday morning’s news was inevitable. Disgruntled Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III has ended his six-month boycott and returned to the organization, the Cincinnati Enquirer first reported.

    After insisting that he would not play under the franchise tag, Bates has bowed to reality. He intends to sign the one-year, $12.9 million tender, the report says. That means his return to the practice field could come as soon as this week — when the Bengals host the Los Angeles Rams for joint practices.

    What Jessie Bates’ return to Cincinnati Bengals means

    It’s not accurate to call Bates’ decision to skip all of training camp a holdout, since he technically hasn’t been under contract. That’s allowed him to avoid the hundreds of thousands of dollars he would owe in mandatory fines.

    But in the end, his gambit accomplished little more than making a very public point.

    The reality was always this: If Bates wanted to play football in 2022, he had to sign the tag. The deadline for tagged players to sign an extension passed weeks ago, ensuring he would not get a long-term deal before 2023.

    But the events of the past six months have all but assured he will not be tagged again, and that this will be his final season playing for Cincinnati.

    The Bengals telegraphed their thinking by drafting Bates’ replacement — Michigan’s Daxton Hill — late in the first round. While Bates has been away from the team, Hill has been getting first-team work in the Bengals’ loaded defensive backfield.

    Along with Bates and Hill, the Bengals will line up Vonn Bell, Eli Apple, Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton (not to mention Tre Flowers and Cam Taylor-Britt) in their secondary this fall.

    That’s a formidable sextet — and a potent answer to an arms race in a deep and talented AFC.

    Bates, 25, is a former second-round pick who earned second-team All-Pro honors in 2020. He has started 63 of a possible 65 games since entering the league in 2018 and has tallied 408 tackles, 10 interceptions, and 35 passes defensed.

    He’s easily one of the best players at his position, which has surely made the sting of the franchise tag all the more painful. In just the short time since he’s been tagged, Bates has had to watch contemporaries Minkah Fitzpatrick and Derwin James sign long-term contracts worth more than $70 million each.

    Assuming he remained in shape, Bates should have ample time to get ready for the start of the season. The Bengals open against Fitzpatrick and the Steelers on Sept. 11.

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