The Falcons entered the offseason with more cap space than they’ve had in quite a long time, and Terry Fontenot was able to participate in free agency without financial limitations.
That freedom netted a haul of impact players but none more than Jessie Bates, who was the crown jewel of the offseason. Regardless if the acquisition came via the draft, free agency or a trade, the investment in the former Bengals safety has paid more dividends than any other.
The club handed $64 million to Bates, making him the fourth highest-paid safety in NFL history and giving Atlanta a quarterback on defense. Not only has he been instrumental in the improvement on that side of the ball, but he’s also been just as critical to the cultural shift. Bates is a force multiplier.
He’s a first-one-in, last-one-out kind of teammate who makes everyone around him better. The former All-Pro is pretty damn good on the field too. Bates is coming off a game that netted him his second NFC Defensive Player of the Week behind a two-turnover performance.
On Sunday against the Saints, Bates finished with a game-high 12 tackles, a pass breakup, two quarterback pressures, a forced fumble, and an interception returned for a touchdown.
Bates leads the Falcons in interceptions, tackles, and forced fumbles, and is second to AJ Terrell in passes defended. Across the entire NFL, he’s sixth in forced fumbles and third in interceptions. It’s suffice to say the acquisition has been a home run, and that might even be underselling it.
Bates got the top safety contract in free agency. He signed a four-year, $64.02 million contract with the Falcons to become the NFL’s fourth-highest-paid safety at $16.005 million per year. The deal has $36 million fully guaranteed, which is tied as the second most for a safety. Bates has been well worth the investment. He’s tied for third in the NFL with four interceptions, including one for a touchdown, and has also forced three fumbles this season. Bates’ seven takeaways (interceptions and forced fumbles) are tied for the league lead.
Jessie Bates is playing like the best safety in the league on his way to Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. Terry Fontenot has once again struck gold in free agency.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire