The Pittsburgh Steelers reportedly have made Minkah Fitzpatrick the highest-paid safety in NFL history by agreeing to a four-year extension for more than $18.4 million per year. In addition, Fitzpatrick will received $36 million guaranteed at signing.
That sets the bar quite high for a pair of star safeties looking for fat second contracts in the Los Angeles Chargers' Derwin James and the Cincinnati Bengals' Jessie Bates.
James is entering the final year of his contract after the Chargers picked up his fifth-year option.
Bates' situation is more complicated. The Bengals placed the franchise tag on him, but he has no plans to play on it in 2022, per Tyler Dragon of USA Today. The one-year tag would pay Bates $12.91 million. The two sides have until July 15 to agree to a long-term deal, though.
Both should be in line for big paydays based on their resumes.
James is a two-time Pro Bowler who made the All-Pro first team during a fantastic rookie year in 2018. Unfortunately, injuries held the Florida State product to five games in 2019 and all of 2020, but he returned to All-Pro form in 2021 with 118 tackles, two interceptions, two sacks and three forced fumbles.
Bates is the bedrock of the Bengals defense. The 2020 second-team All-Pro started in all but two of their regular-season games over the past four years. In 2021, the Wake Forest product had 88 tackles and four pass breakups for the AFC champions.
The standard has been set for both safeties, who should now both be in line for as much or more money.
The question now is what they could be in line for receiving.
Even before the Fitzpatrick contract, Daniel Popper of The Athletic had James receiving over $17 million per year.
Fitzpatrick, a first-team All-Pro in 2019 and 2020, just signed a game-changing deal, though, and James should presumably be in line for more money now.
Talks have already begun, per Dragon:
When healthy, James is one of the best safeties in the game thanks to his tremendous versatility and production. He should eclipse Fitzpatrick's mark and perhaps become the first safety to earn an average annual value of $20 million.
The guess here is that he does and inks a four-year, $80 million contract with $40 million guaranteed at signing.
As for Bates, he has a ringing endorsement from an important person in the Bengals organization.
Ben Baby @Ben_Baby
Bengals QB Joe Burrow on S Jessie Bates: “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 that has kind of built what we’re doing here.” (via <a href="https://twitter.com/Bengals?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@bengals</a>) <a href="https://t.co/n3Gbmn2Ac7">pic.twitter.com/n3Gbmn2Ac7</a>
Bengals analyst Joe Goodberry believes Bates shouldn't accept any less guaranteed money than Fitzpatrick.
The issue, of course, is that the Bengals and Bates clearly aren't on the same page. Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic provided his take on the matter after the Fitzpatrick news:
Paul Dehner Jr. @pauldehnerjr
This, obviously, has direct Jessie Bates ramifications. Curious to see what the total numbers/structure/guarantees end up being, but really hard to imagine any world where the Bengals would go there at this point (which is precisely how it got to this point). <a href="https://t.co/Dh03BmW9RR">https://t.co/Dh03BmW9RR</a>
Ultimately, Bates is one of the most valuable members of a team that just made the Super Bowl for the first time since 1988. He deserves a big payday like Fitzpatrick.
It's possible the Bengals take a hard stance on the matter and drag the stalemate much longer, but if they blink first, then the projection on Bates' contract is four years for $76 million ($38 million guaranteed at signing).