Tuesday was a big day for the Cincinnati Bengals. In case it was missed, August 23 marked the official return of All-Pro safety Jessie Bates III. He showed up and signed his franchise tag tender after holding out for the last few months.
“It’s been great, just to see the looks on people’s faces as you walk in the building,” Bates told reporters Wednesday. “Even the cafeteria lady, Ms. Marie, walked up and gave me a big hug.
“It’s just stuff like that that you kinda appreciate when you walk into a building.”
There’s a lot for Bates to appreciate these days, even if he didn’t get the long-term deal he desired.
He’s on a playoff-caliber team that many consider a Super Bowl contender, he’s making nearly twice as much in 2022 than he has throughout his entire four years in the NFL, and he has himself in the right mindset as he approaches arguably the most important year of his career.
“I think it was very impactful for me,” Bates said of his time away from the team. ” … I’m blessed. I’m happy to be here.”
Bates had ($)12.9 million reasons to come back to the Bengals, but he can’t put a price on what became the main reason for his return.
“I know what type of locker room we have here,” said Bates. “So I never questioned being looked at differently when I was away.”
The fifth-year safety certainly wasn’t looked at any differently during his absence. Multiple teammates and coaches went on record in support of their teammate/co-worker.
Unsurprisingly, that resonated with Bates in a big way.
“It means a lot,” said Bates. “It speaks volumes to what we are here in Cincinnati. I mean, I’m not surprised [because] I would do the same thing for them if they were in the same situation. So, I appreciate them. I’ve reached out to them multiple times just thanking them for handling it the right way – the way I would do it, as well. Like I said, I’m very thankful.”
How everything went down is a perfect example of how the culture has changed for Bengals football.
Winning teams ignore the distractions and the noise and they focus on what matters most – the team.
When it comes to the business side of things, everyone knows they have to handle their own business in that regard and that it won’t affect the team unless they let it happen.
Bates is a prime candidate to recognize the difference between a losing culture and a winning culture, as he’s been on both sides of the spectrum over the course of his career.
What he sees and experiences now is totally different than what he went through during his first three years in the NFL. What the Bengals have now is a winning culture. And he knows it.
“I know what type of locker room that is here and I know that it’s different here compared to other places,” said Bates.
A big part of the Bengals’ turnaround is quarterback Joe Burrow, who has shown tremendous leadership qualities like Bates.
Burrow was also a staunch of supporter of Bates and made it clear where he stood during the ordeal.
Both are close, so it’s not like Burrow had a reason to do anything else but support Bates. At the same time, he didn’t have to go out of his way and say what he did.
“Jessie’s a big part of this team,” Burrow said back in June. “You can put a price tag on what he does on the field, but I don’t think you can on what he does in the locker room. He’s been a guy who has kinda built what we’re doing here – he was one of the firsts.
“Jessie’s exactly the kind of player that I think you want to reward for the work that he’s done for the last four years. Through the ups and the downs. We weren’t very good for three years while he was here. He’s been through it all.”
The days of the Bungles are over. The Bengals not only erased 30+ years of zero playoff wins, but they’ve instilled the proper foundation that will lead to consistent winning, which is what all NFL teams ultimately desire.
Bates is part of that foundation and the Bengals needs to do as much as possible to make sure he remains part of it.
And who knows? Maybe Burrow can pull yet another rabbit out his hat and keep Bates around not in just 2022, but for the foreseeable future.
“There’s not a lot of teams in this league that have an elite quarterback like Joe Burrow,” said Bates. “I think if you wanna be on a good team you have to have a good quarterback. And I think that’s something that will obviously stick in the back of my mind as the next couple of years come.”