The Atlanta Falcons have begun to rebuild their defensive backfield, agreeing to a four-year deal with former Bengals safety Jessie Bates III.
With more than $45 million in available cap space entering 2023 NFL free agency, the Falcons seemed poised to make a splash — and they did just that on Monday. Atlanta is signing former Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III to a four-year, $64.02 million contract, according to NFL Media.
Jessie Bates III Lands 4-Year Contract With Atlanta Falcons
Bates was the top safety and one of the best defenders on the 2023 free agent market, and given that he’s still only 26 years old, it’s no surprise he was able to land a significant contract from the Falcons.
Atlanta will give Bates $64.02 million over four years, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. Per Mike Garafolo, Bates will receive $36 million fully guaranteed at signing and $23 million in the first year of the deal.
Bates played the 2022 season on the franchise tag, which paid him $12.911 million. Now, he’ll see his yearly salary rise to $16 million while locking in substantial guarantees. Bates will become the NFL’s fourth-highest-paid safety, behind only Derwin James, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Jamal Adams.
A second-round pick out of Wake Forest in the 2018 draft, Bates started 79 games over five seasons with the Bengals and earned second-team All-Pro honors in 2020. In addition to losing Bates, Cincinnati also saw fellow safety Vonn Bell depart for the Carolina Panthers earlier on Monday.
Jessie Bates Finds Dream Free Safety Fit in Atlanta
There are few places that are better to go to as a true free safety than a defense that takes its roots from Dennis Allen’s defense in New Orleans. It’s one of the few places in the modern NFL where a true single-high free safety can still shine.
While there will be some two-high shells pre-snap, Bates will get plenty of looks in Cover 3 and Cover 1 in Atlanta. Playing off A.J. Terrell in what will surely be a heavy dose of match-based Cover 3 will be an absolute treat to watch.
But you might not see Bates as often on the telecast or on the All-22. At times, Marcus Williams couldn’t be seen on tape pre-snap in New Orleans. The defense really puts the ball in the court of the safety, and Bates can be the best point guard in the league in this role.
The move will also likely keep him from venturing too close to the line of scrimmage too often, which lets him do what he does best; close the middle of the field. Casey Hayward will also continue to play well into his 30s in Ryan Nielson’s defensive system.
Atlanta still has a long way to go before they’ve officially turned their defensive roster around. However, they’ve made a few moves already in free agency to address their weaknesses, and a difference-making free safety will go a long way toward improving what was the league’s 29th-ranked defense in dropback EPA per play.