NFL: DEC 11 Browns at Bengals

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It looks like one of Cincinnati’s key defensive players will be hitting free agency.

According to Tyler Dragon of USA TODAY, the Bengals are not expected to franchise tag safety Jessie Bates.

Cincinnati tagged Bates last year to prevent him from hitting the open market. Bates did not participate in the offseason program and the two sides did not come to a long-term deal by the mid-July deadline. Bates didn’t report to the club and sign his franchise tender until Aug. 23.

But he still started all 16 of Cincinnati’s games (the Week 17 contest with Buffalo being canceled) and recorded 71 tackles, eight passes defensed, four interceptions, and a forced fumble.

A second-round pick in the 2018 draft, Bates has been a mainstay of the Cincinnati defense ever since. In 79 starts, he’s picked off 14 passes and recorded 43 passes defensed.

But Cincinnati ostensibly drafted Bates’ replacement in safety Daxton Hill with the 31st overall pick in 2022. Hill appeared in 15 games with two starts. He played 167 special teams snaps with 131 defensive snaps as a rookie.

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