Packers Urged to Add All-Pro Safety to Extend Rodgers’ Window

Jessie Bates Packers Rodgers

Getty The Packers will have a chance to extend their Super Bowl window if Aaron Rodgers returns.

The Green Bay Packers are still waiting for their quarterback question to be answered as Aaron Rodgers continues to weigh his NFL future, but if the four-time MVP decides to keep fighting in Green Bay, it could prompt the Packers to take a big swing in free agency to extend their Super Bowl window.

Justin Melo of The Draft Network recently took a look at Cincinnati Bengals star safety Jessie Bates III and his impending free agency next month, noting how the Bengals could have difficulty keeping him with Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins also in line for contract extensions in the near future. Should Bates hit the open market, Melo believes the Packers could borrow from their future and become a top landing spot for him.

Here’s what Melo wrote about the possibility of Bates and the Packers:

If the Packers are going to splurge on an expensive free agent with their newly-found money, there’s a good argument to be made for Bates. Adrian Amos played 2022 on an expiring contract and Darnell Savage suffered through a nightmarish campaign that saw him relegated to backup duties on several occasions. Stopping the pass has become a crucial key to victory over their NFC North arch-rival Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions.

Bates Could Take Packers’ Secondary to Elite Levels

Jessie Bates Packers

GettyJessie Bates III could be a prime free agent targets for the Packers in the 2023 offseason.

Bate is coming off another impressive season for the back-to-back AFC North winners, recording a career-high four interceptions along with eight pass deflections and a forced fumble in 2022 and forming a sturdy tandem with fellow safety Vonn Bell that helped the Bengals defense improve from its previous iteration. While his production hasn’t quite returned to the level of his 2020 second-team All-Pro season, he has solidified himself as a gifted coverage player who handles the deep field with grace.

According to Pro Football Focus, Bates was the sixth-highest-graded defender (71.9) among all safeties who played at least 80% of their team’s defensive snaps in 2022 and was the second-best safety against the run, receiving an elite-caliber 88.3 and tallying a total of 19 defensive stops (or a play that constitutes a failure for the offense). By comparison, Amos (53.4) and Savage (47.5) both received the lowest defensive grades of their respective careers during the 2022 campaign.

Now, the Bengals could spend the coin and keep the 6-foot-1, 200-pound safety right where he is in their secondary, but there are a few reasons to think they might instead let him find a new team on the open market. For starters, they will need to set aside a good chunk of change to pay Burrow his eventual contract extension and might not want to carry a hefty safety contract on their books at the same time, especially if they plan on using some more of that money to extend Higgins — or Ja’Marr Chase later on.

The Bengals also cashed in their 2022 first-round pick on safety Dax Hill, who spent the majority of his rookie season as a reserve player behind Bates and Bell. If they believe Hill can become a quality starter for their defense, they might decide to give him the bump to the starting lineup in 2023 and re-sign Bell instead to have a more affordable veteran safety roaming the deep field alongside him.

How Could Packers Afford to Sign Bates to Big Contract?

Bakhtiari Notes Bates

GettyDavid Bakhtiari could be in line for a restructure as the Packers look for ways to free up 2023 cap space.

The Packers would have an obvious interest in someone of Bates’ caliber, especially with Amos — who turns 30 in April — due to become an unrestricted free agent on March 15. As always, though, the biggest challenge for the Packers would be finding a way to fit a big-money free agent contract on their books.

Fortunately, the Packers have more maneuverability than in previous offseasons. After restructuring the contracts of Aaron Jones, Jaire Alexander and Preston Smith, Green Bay has a little more than $6.4 million in cap space for the 2023 offseason and could free up more than $30 million more if they rework their deals with Kenny Clark and David Bakhtiari and either restructure or extend Rashan Gary. That would be more than enough space for them to sign Bates to a lucrative, top-of-the-market type of deal.

According to Spotrac’s projections, Bate has a calculated market value of about $14 million per season heading into 2023 free agency, but he could be seeking a deal worth north of $15 million per season if he wants to become one of the highest-paid safeties in the NFL. While that’s not a small amount of money, the Packers could certainly agree to something along those lines — let’s say a four-year, $60 million contract — that gives him a sub-$10 million cap hit in 2023 and allows them to reuse the “kick the can” method with restructures in future seasons when his cost begins to hike.

Don’t forget, the Packers’ quarterback situation could also create some financial pathways for the future. If Rodgers stays and Jordan Love asks to be traded, the Packers wouldn’t have to worry about adding the cost of his 2024 fifth-year option (projected to be more than $20 million) to their books for the future. Likewise, if Rodgers departs in 2023 and Love becomes the starter, they would save about $16 million for 2024.

Maybe the Packers adding an All-Pro player like Bates is still a pipe dream, but at least there isn’t an air of impossibility around the idea.

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