Devin McCourty’s retirement created a clear need at free safety for the New England Patriots.
They won’t be filling it with the best available free agent.
Jessie Bates III, a standout player for Cincinnati for the past five seasons, agreed to terms Monday on a four-year, $64 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons, according to multiple reports.
The odds of Bates being too expensive for the Patriots always were high, and they weren’t likely to offer him a contract that lucrative. With an average annual value of just over $16 million, Bates will make more per year than all but three NFL safeties: Derwin James, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jamal Adams.
Bates had four interceptions and eight passes defended for the Bengals this season, has missed just two games in his career and, at age 26, still is in his prime.
Most of the other top safeties still were on the market when Bates’ agreement was reported, giving the Patriots ample options if they plan to add a veteran to replace McCourty. Those included Buffalo’s Jordan Poyer, Kansas City’s Juan Thornhill, the New York Giants’ Julian Love and one of McCourty’s former New England position mates, Duron Harmon, who spent this season with the Raiders.
The Patriots also could look to the 2023 NFL Draft for their McCourty successor or move one of their current defensive backs into his vacated spot. If they choose the latter path, newly re-signed cornerback Jonathan Jones would be one candidate for a position change.