The ongoing contract drama between safety Jessie Bates and the Cincinnati Bengals is easily the biggest story of the offseason for the defending AFC champions.

Bates has become a key defensive player for the Bengals over the last couple of years. As a result, he’s looking for a new contract.

Cincinnati placed the franchise tag on Bates earlier this offseason, but he’s yet to sign it.

The former Wake Forest standout, who has never reached the Pro-Bowl, is reportedly looking to be paid as one of the top safeties in the NFL.

On Wednesday, ESPN’s Dan Graziano offered an update on negotiations between Bates and the Bengals.

And let’s just say it’s not looking good for a long-term solution between the two parties.

“So far from what I’ve been told, it hasn’t been quite as hopeful,” said Graziano during his Wednesday morning Sportscenter appearance. “Things do happen at the last minute a lot of times with these deals. But right now, Jessie Bates and the Bengals don’t seem to be particularly close.”

“He wants to be paid at the top end of the safety market, which given his performance he should be. The franchise tag is about $12.9 million — a little bit under that — and he doesn’t want to play on that. He hasn’t signed it. He may hold out of training camp if he doesn’t get a deal done by next Friday’s deadline….the Bengals have been playing hard ball and we’ll see if they relent at all before the deadline.”

That certainly doesn’t sound optimistic.

I’m guessing that a deal doesn’t get done. I think Bates, however, will eventually play on the franchise tag instead of holding out. That’s too much money to miss out on. But it almost certainly would mean that Bates isn’t back in Cincinnati next season. The Bengals have already prepared for that scenario by drafting safety Daxton Hill in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has publicly said he wants Bates back in Cincy. And the two were even spotted together this past weekend at UFC 276. But at the end of the day, this is a business. And Bates has to do what he thinks is best for his career. For now, that doesn’t appear to mean a long-term deal with the Bengals.

Featured image via Sam Greene/The Enquirer via Imagn Content Services