There’s no question where the Falcons should spend their salary cap space this offseason. The offense was an improving unit, thanks to one of the best rushing attacks in football. However, the defense was pitiful in nearly every metric. There’s next to no talent on that side of the ball. The Falcons should allocate most of their cap space to that side of the ball this offseason, and PFF has them swinging big, grabbing the top free agent safety — Jessie Bates III.
Jessie Bates: Falcons
Daron Payne: ??
The best landing spots for defensive free agents in 2023https://t.co/bIxfxzJ0fR
— PFF (@PFF) January 26, 2023
Best fit: Atlanta Falcons
Bates’ future with the Bengals seems to be nearing an end. He played this season on the franchise tag, and the team doesn’t seem entirely serious about negotiating a long-term extension to keep him around.
The Falcons, meanwhile, finished in the bottom five in yards allowed per coverage snap (6.74) and defensive stops against the pass (72) this past season. In the midst of a rebuild, they can solidify their backend by locking up a top safety like Bates to pair with 2021 second-round pick Richie Grant, who is coming off his first season in a full-time role. Bates is just two seasons removed from earning the highest overall grade at his position in 2020 (90.1), and after a down year in 2021, he was able to bounce back in 2022 to a level of play that most expect from the former second-round pick.
Bates finished in the top 15 at his position in overall grade (76.8) and run-defense grade (84.8) while posting a strong 72.9 coverage grade (tied for 21st). The Falcons do not have a shortage of team needs this offseason, but the rebuild could pick up speed, especially on defense, with the addition of the 26-year-old Bates.
There are two important reasons why the Falcons and their fans should feel comfortable giving Bates a potentially lucrative, multi-year deal: he’s only 26 years old and is incredibly durable. The 2022 campaign marks his fifth straight 1,000-plus snap season.
Bates blossomed into one of the top players at his position after being selected in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The All-Pro safety was a Day 1 starter and has only missed two games since then. He doesn’t thrive in any single area, but he can handle his own in most. He’s versatile and would be an excellent complement to the young and inexperienced Richie Grant.
Spotrac’s market value has Jessie Bates garnering a four-year, $42.4 million contract, which would be $10.6 million per year. Sign me up. That’s a steal, but I’m afraid those probably aren’t realistic numbers. Not that he’s the top safety in football, but that AAV is significantly lower than the top of the market — Derwin James ($19.1 million per year), Minkah Fitzpatrick ($18.4 million per), and Marcus Williams ($14 million per). I imagine Bates will be closer to somewhere in the five-year, $65-75 million range.