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Raiders’ free agent focus: Jessie Bates III

Dynamic safety is a pure playmaker Las Vegas sorely needs

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
Safety Jessie Bates III is slated to hit the open market after playing on the franchise tag last season for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s a defender that’ll likely sign moments after the NFL free agency period begins this coming Monday, it’s Jessie Bates III. The fifth-year safety is a thief in the secondary and after playing 2022 on the franchise tag, his career as a Cincinnati Bengal may be over.

It’ll be heading to the highest bidder as an unrestricted free agent. And the Las Vegas Raiders should be in on the action. Bates would provide the Silver & Black something its lacking in a top-end safety who can cover deep and take the ball away.

Tale of the Tape: Jessie Bates III

  • Position: Safety
  • Year drafted: 2nd round (54th overall), 2018
  • Age: 26
  • Height: 6-foot-1
  • Weight: 200 pounds
  • 2022 Stats: 71 total tackles (38 solo), 1 tackle for loss, 4 interceptions, 8 passes defended, 1 forced fumble
  • Career Stats: 479 total tackles (327 solo), 6 tackles for loss, 14 interceptions (1 returned for touchdown), 43 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries

The career numbers speak for themselves. The drought of takeaways in the desert is something Bates can potentially alleviate and would give Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham an elite-level member in the secondary.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Las Vegas Raiders
Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is in dire need of an influx of quality talent. Landing a safety like Jessie Bates III would be an ideal move.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

But what’s more impressive is Bates’ ability to rebound from a 2021 campaign to a stellar 2022 performance in coverage. The safety was targeted 37 times this past season and allowed only 19 completions (51.4 percent completion rate) for 309 yards and four touchdowns while intercepting passes four times, according to Pro Football Reference. Opposing quarterbacks sported a 76.1 rating throwing his way. The previous season, Bates drew 45 targets and allowed 35 completions (80 percent) for 583 yards and two touchdowns while snaring only one interception. Quarterbacks throwing his way had a staggering 122.0 passer rating.

In comparison, safety Tre’Von Moehrig (who profiled similar to Bates coming out of TCU in the 2021 NFL Draft) was the backend defender to allow a completion rate of less than 70 percent (69.6 percent). Duron Harmon allowed 77.2 percent of passes for completions while Johnathan Abram allowed 73 percent and Roderic Teamer yielded 76 percent.

Bates not only provides ball production (14 career interceptions, 43 pass deflections, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries) he is a lead-by-example type who can get the Raiders defense aligned, much like Harmon did this past season.

Bates is also scheme versatile as he can match in man coverage or play a read-react type role in zone. And when he is beaten in coverage, he has the awareness and speed to make up ground to catch up. His sideline-to-sideline range is ever present in coverage and when asked to attack the line of scrimmage defending the run.

The main sticking point for the Raiders and any other interested team is Bates’ price point. After earning more $12.911 million off the franchise tag from the Bengals last season, Bates is highly likely to strike rich on the open market. Spotrac projects his value at $14 million annually on a four-year, $56.263-plus million contract. That pact would put him in the top 10 in terms of safety money.

The Los Angeles Chargers’ Derwin James (total of $76.532 million, annual average of $19.133 million) and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Minkah Fitzpatrick (total of more than $73.612 million, average of $18.403 million) are the top two earners at the position, for reference.