Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer listed the 49ers as a potential suitor for free agent safety Jessie Bates:
I’d be surprised if Cincinnati’s Jessie Bates doesn’t cash in, and he may even scrape up against what Minkah Fitzpatrick and Derwin James got last year. In almost every case, you have to ask with free agents why their current teams are letting them go. In this one, it’s easy—the Bengals don’t want to lose him, but they have a lot of mouths to feed. So their loss could be the gain of a team such as Chicago, Cleveland or San Francisco.
Bates was the first player Breer listed as players he believes will earn eight-figure contracts next season.
San Francisco has a void at safety with Tashaun Gipson and Jimmie Ward set to hit free agency. Last week, general manager John Lynch said the team would welcome Gipson back. But the Niners may view Bates as a worthy upgrade.
Lynch could take the same approach as last offseason, where the 49ers spent big on one free agent — and were rewarded with the play of Mooney Ward — and signed a few other role players. Bates falls under the “big-money” category. Spotrac projects Bates’s market value around $14 million annually.
Bates is a high-risk, high-reward player. He has a knack for being around the ball, which leads to him making several plays a game. Bates was among the league leaders in interceptions with four this past season. He also had seven pass breakups.
But there are just as many plays where those gambles don’t work out, and he leaves another defensive back out to dry while the defense allows an explosive play.
Tackling is also an issue. This past season was Bates’ lowest missed tackle percentage, and that number was barely below 15 percent, per Sports Info Solutions. Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt may not have been the ball hawks fans covet, but sure tackling means the opposing offense has to sustain drives.
This is Steve Wilks’ defense now, which means there’s more on the free safety’s plate. Knowing that, the 49ers will be required to invest in a free safety. The other side of the coin for Bates is that he’d be playing behind the best front seven in football. You can afford to take more risks when you have a potent pass rush.
Bates was getting better each season before an off-year in 2021. He bounced back nicely in 2022 and posted the most “total points saved,” a Sports Info Solutions metric, of his career by nearly double.
Are the Bengals letting Bates walk strictly for financial reasons? You always have to ask why a team is willing to let a player out of the building. In this case, the 49ers must determine whether Bates’s big price tag is worth the reward.