Safety Jessie Bates, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals, agreed to sign a four-year contract worth $16 million annually with the Falcons on Monday, according to his agent.
Bates was one of the top defensive players on the market and would instantly upgrade the Falcons’ defense. He will be reunited with Falcons defensive backs coach Steve Jackson, who was with the Bengals in 2020-21.
Bates, who played at Wake Forest, beat out George Iloka as a rookie and went on to start 79 regular-season games.
He helped the Bengals reach Super Bowl LVI.
Bates is 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds. He was named second-team All-Pro after the 2020 season.
He played last season on the franchise tag after the Bengals drafted his replacement in Daxton Hill.
The Bengals didn’t want to let him go, but they must start freeing cash for quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
Bates’ agent David Mulugheta released a post on social media and tagged Bates and the Falcons’ A.J. Terrell, Casey Hayward and Kyle Pitts to start the speculation that he would sign with the Falcons.
Bates would help to secure the back end of the defense and leave Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins to compete for the other spot.
“We’re not mortgaging the future, but we’re trying to make the best team possible for this coming season,” Cincinnati’s director of player personnel Duke Tobin said at the NFL combine.
Without much pass-rush help from the defensive front, the Falcons’ secondary didn’t hold up well in coverage in 2022.
Opponents passed for 231.9 yards per game, which ranked 25th in the NFL. The opposition averaged 7.03 yards per pass play, which ranked 29th, and converted on 45.91% of its third downs, which ranked 31st in the league.
One of the key factors was losing Hayward, a right cornerback who suffered a shoulder injury after six games and was lost for the season.
Isaiah Oliver, who had reconstructive knee surgery, returned to his nickel back slot. He started five games and played in 12. He spent some time at safety at the end of the season.
Oliver is set to become a free agent Wednesday.
Grant, who was taken in the second round (40th overall) in 2021, started all 17 games. He finished with 123 tackles and had two interceptions.
He allowed three touchdowns, 31 catches and had a 64.9 grade (D), according to profootballfocus.com.
Hawkins, who rotated with Oliver in the last two games, started 16 games and finished with two interceptions and 84 tackles.
He gave up four touchdown passes, 18 receptions and had a grade of 59.8 (F).
Veteran safety Erik Harris played 33 snaps from scrimmage but helped out with 299 snaps on special teams. He’s set to become a free agent.
Bates’ signing was first reported by NFL media.
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Credit: Mark McKay, Channel 2 Action News