General manager Terry Fontenot and the Atlanta Falcons did a lot to improve their roster this offseason. But Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon considered the signing of safety Jessie Bates III the best of all of them.
On a list of the top 25 moves of the NFL offseason, Kenyon ranked the Falcons signing Bates at No. 15.
“Last season, the Falcons ranked 26th in yards allowed per play,” Kenyon wrote. “This offseason, only the Bears had more money to spend — and, friends, did Atlanta ever use it.”
“The splashiest move doubles as my favorite, given the team’s need at safety. Jessie Bates III cost $36 million in guarantees but brings much-coveted star power to Atlanta’s defense.”
The full contract for Bates was a four-year, $64.02 million deal. As Kenyon noted, the contract guaranteed the safety $36 million.
That guaranteed money was the seventh-most for a free agent this offseason. Among non-quarterbacks, the safety’s guaranteed $36 million was fifth-most in 2023 free agency.
With Bates, the Falcons landed a veteran safety who is still only 26 years old. Before Arthur Smith’s first season, Atlanta signed veterans Erik Harris and Duran Harmon. Each were serviceable in 2021, but both were at least 30 years old and not long-term solutions.
Last season, the Falcons started 25-year-olds Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins at safety for every game but one.
Grant is projected to start again in 2023, but Bates is expected to replace Hawkins as Atlanta’s starting free safety. Bates’ arrival means the Falcons have upgraded their starting defensive backfield and provided the unit a long-term solution.
Additionally, with Hawkins sliding into a backup role, the Falcons have defensive back depth at safety really for the first time since Smith became head coach in 2021.
In five seasons with the Bengals, Bates recorded 14 interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, and 43 pass defenses. He also had 479 combined tackles, including 327 solos and 6 tackles for loss with 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and 2 quarterback hits.